What to expect in Critical Care

Since patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) are quite sick, you may find it upsetting, or overwhelming the first time you visit. This is normal, so remember to take your time and move at your own pace. You can speak with the nurse at the bedside to let them know know how you are feeling, and our staff will be happy to help you to understand what is going on and what you are seeing and experiencing. 

Why is my family member acting this way?

It is possible your family member may behave in ways that surprise or distress you. They may seem angry, confused or simply just different. This behaviour may be the result of frustration, medication, fear in an unfamiliar environment or due to their illness or injuries. You can be help by remaining calm and reminding your family member of things which are familiar to them and that they find calming. If you are concerned about your loved one's behavior, please feel free to speak to their nurse.

Many patients in the ICU often require medication to keep them comfortable. This may make them less responsive to you. It is important to note that although they may not be able to respond to a voice or touch, they may still be able to hear and feel you. You are encouraged to talk to your family member and let them know they are loved and not alone.

How long do patients stay in the ICU?

The length of time a patient may stay in the ICU depends on their illness or injuries. Some patients will recover fairly quickly while others may remain in the ICU for weeks. Your family member's care team will speak to you about how they are progressing and if/when they may be transferred to another area of the hospital.

ICU team members

The ICU is made up of a large team of very specialized staff who are able to provide your loved one with the high level critical care they require. If you would like to learn more about about the specific types of professionals that will be caring for your family member in the ICU, click here.  

Equipment in the ICU

As a family member, you can expect to see a variety of machines and equipment being used in the ICU. We understand this may be overwhelming to see and our team are always available to answer your questions and help you understand what you are seeing.

Many pieces of equipment have alarms that often ring loudly, which can make the ICU a noisy place. However, a ringing alarm rarely means something is wrong with your family member. Please be assured that there is a nurse who will respond to the alarm and will let you know what is happening.

Some common peices of equipment in the ICU are:

  • The endotracheal tube - This is a hollow breathing tube that is used to help your family member breathe easier. When this tube is in place your family member will not be able to speak.
  • The ventilator - This is a machine that pumps air and extra oxygen to help your family member breathe. This machine is a form of life support.
  • The heart monitor - This monitor is like a TV screen that shows your family member's heart rate, blood pressure as well as other types of information.
  • The nasogastric tube (NG tube) - This is a small tube that goes through the nose and into the stomach. It is used to help empty the stomach to prevent vomiting. If your family member cannot swallow, they may get drugs and fluid through the tube as well.
  • The intravenous pump (IV pump) - This gives your family member the exact amount of drugs and fluids they require through a tube, into one of their veins.