The high cost of treatment in an ICU is clearly recognized; the ultimate benefit of that care in prolonging meaningful life is not as well quantified. We evaluated 337 mixed medical-surgical ICU patients for severity of illness and intensity of therapy and assessed their survival and quality of life 16 to 20 months after discharge. Mortality was 36.9% for emergency surgical and medical patients and 13.9% for elective surgical patients. A total of 140 patients responded to follow-up; 62.2% of patients not retired or homemakers were working full-time. Quality of life was good using both subjective and objective standards. There were few significant differences between elective surgical and other patients. Survival and life quality were related inversely to severity of illness and cost of treatment. Acute health on ICU admission predicted survival well; chronic health and age were better predictors of life quality.