The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is a place in the hospital where the sickest people are cared for by specially trained people. As you walk through the ICU hallways, you can see many things in the rooms. You may hear all kinds of noises. People talk, telephones ring, and the machines make noises. Sometimes you can hear a television or music. Different smells come from the doorway. But our nurses and doctors are doing their best to help your loved one get better.
Things You Can Do For Your Loved One
Visits need to be short (5 - 10 minutes) because the patient needs rest and the nurses need to do their jobs to take the best care of the patient.
- Sit quietly at the bedside and hold their hand.
- Talk quietly with them, even if they look asleep. Talk about your school, your fun activities, and what’s going on at home. Remind them of the day, date, and time.
- Let them know everything at home is okay. For example, tell them that their pets, children, or spouse are being cared for.
- Write a poem, make a sign, or draw a picture.
- Bring a picture of yourself, the family, or pet.
- Read to them or tape a message.
- If you wish, the nursing staff may be able to you in their care; ask staff what you can do. For example, you might be able to swab their mouth, vaseline their lips, lotion dry skin, or put a cool cloth to their forehead.
- Let the nurses know about any of your loved one’s personal habits/preferences. For example, do they have a nickname, special hobbies, favorite music or TV programs.
Before You Come to Visit
Everyone must wash their hands before and after visiting your loved one. This protects the patient by keeping germs away. You should use warm water and soap to wash your hands, then rinse them really well to wash all the germs and dirt down the sink. A family member or nurse will go with you and show you where to wash your hands.
If you are sick with an infection such as a cold, cough, or fever, your family may not let you visit or they may ask the nurse for a mask that you could wear over your nose and mouth.
People sometimes act differently when they are very sad or stressed. Some people may cry at times, other people may get impatient or upset easily, some people want to be left alone and others want lots of hugs. You can help by understanding that this is a difficult time for everyone. It is normal for you to feel confused and afraid. Ask questions about the situation and talk about your feelings. If the nurse is not too busy, they can answer any questions you may have.
Your Loved One: the Patient
The nurses and doctors call the person you came to visit a patient. When they talk about the patient, they say all kinds of words that don't make sense. They use words like vital signs, stable, condition, ventilator and suction. All these words have to do with caring for the patient.
The patient may not look like the person you remember. Usually they look like they are asleep. It is okay to hold their hand and to talk to them, if you wish. They may be able to hear you, but unable to respond.
They are lying in a hospital bed, and may have many tubes taped to their face. The tape holds the tubes in place. Some of these tubes will drain into containers that are hanging from the bed or placed on the floor.
Sometimes swelling makes their face or hands look bigger. They may have special bandages.
Equipment: Hospital Bed
The patient will be in a hospital bed. The bed has rails on both sides, called side rails. The side rails remind the patient that they are in the hospital and need to rest. The nurses help the patient turn on their side and put pillows behind their back so they are comfortable. The nurse also gives the patient mouth care using a wet sponge on a stick. This keeps the mouth clean and helps if the patient is thirsty.
You may see a special bag hanging off the side of the bed. This bag is called a foley catheter; it is connected to a tube that goes into the bladder. It is used to measure the amount of fluid (urine) the patient voids (pees). The patient does not have to get up and go to the bathroom.
Sometimes the tubes in a patient may look uncomfortable, but the nurses have medicine they can give to the patient to keep them comfortable. Sometimes these medicines make the patient sleepy.
The small TV over the bed is called a monitor. This monitor tells the nurses and doctors what the patient's heart is doing every second. It also lets the nurses know if there is not enough oxygen (air) getting into the patient's lungs. When the body is not working right or the lungs are not getting enough oxygen, the monitor tells the nurse by making a noise called an alarm and red or yellow lights show up on the TV screen. The wires that hang down from the monitor go to stickers on the patient's chest. The wires send messages from the body to the monitor. The monitor reads these messages and puts the massages on the screen as numbers. Nurses and doctors are trained to understand these numbers.
Equipment: IV's and Pumps
When people can't eat for a short time, they must get their food, water, and medications another way. A tube called an IV is used to give fluids (vitamins, water, sugar, and medications) to the patient. Our body has little tubes called blood vessels. These blood vessels carry the fluids throughout our body so the body will have energy and won't get thirsty.
The IV tube goes into a blood vessel of the arm, neck or chest. The nurse puts bags of fluid on a silver metal pole. Fluid flows from the bag through the tube to a machine called a pump. This pump can make a noise which sounds like a beep. The beep tells the nurse more fluid is needed. The pump will not stop beeping until a nurse fixes the problem. The tube from the bag goes through the pump, then to the patient's blood vessel. Water, sugar, vitamins, and medications are given through the IV tube for the body to use to get better.
In a healthy person, breathing provides enough oxygen to keep our body well. But after surgery or an accident, the body is too tired or damaged and may need some help to breathe. The machine that helps the patient breath is called a ventilator. It moves oxygen (air) in and out of the lungs. A big tube goes from the ventilator to a tube in the patient's mouth. The tube in the mouth goes to the lungs. That's where the ventilator puts the oxygen (air). The patient can't eat or talk because of the big tube in their mouth. Sometime the ventilator alarms make a lot of noise and red lights flash on the screen. When the patient is better and can breathe by themselves, the tube will be removed. Remember they can't talk, but you can ask them yes/no questions or just tell them about your day.
Equipment: Feeding / Nasogastric Tube
With the big tube in their mouth for breathing, patients cannot swallow food or water. If a patient can't eat for a long time, a tube will be placed in the nose, down the throat, through the stomach, and into the intestines. This tube is called a feeding tube. The feeding tube puts liquid nutrition (food) into the stomach and intestines. The food helps the patient to get well faster.
Sometimes there is another tube called a Nasogastric (NG) Tube. The NG tube is usually bigger than a feeding tube. This tube is also placed through the nose, but stops in the stomach. The NG tube is used to remove food or liquids in the stomach.