Being in intensive care

Patients who have a serious medical problem are given special treatment called intensive care or critical care.

The intensive care unit is also known as ICU.

Patients in ICU

Many different types of patients are admitted to the ICU.

Some come from the emergency department, some from other wards within the hospital because of complications from their illness.

While there are many different types of patients in the ICU they all need the same thing - constant observation and specialised care.

Machines in ICU

When you first come into the ICU one of the things that may concern you is the amount of equipment and machines attached to your family member or friend.


A ventilator is used when patients are too weak or ill to breathe for themselves.

When your family member or friend has a ventilator working for them, they won't be able to speak to you.

You should ask simple questions that can be answered with a shake or nod of the head.

The patient will often be heavily sedated to keep them comfortable, so they can be very sleepy and may not always respond to you.

Heart monitor

A heart monitor looks like a television with coloured lines moving across the screen. The lines measure the activity of the patient's heart. The heart monitor is connected to the patient with sticky pads on their skin.

The beeps and other electronic noises are the alerts from the machines to let the nurse know when something needs attention.

There may be several tubes called catheters either putting fluid and nutrients into the patient or taking other fluids out.

These machines and monitors help make intensive care as safe and effective as possible.

People working in ICU

There are highly trained doctors, nurses and other health care professionals working in ICU.

Among the many people you will see is a specialist doctor called an intensivist.

A critical care nurse is usually assigned to care for one or two patients at a time and has constant access to information about the patient.

Physiotherapists provide respiratory care and help the patient recover smoothly.

Social workers can help with care for family members, discuss financial resources and help to make plans for the future care of your family member or friend after leaving the ICU.

The chaplain can offer daily emotional and spiritual support for patients and families. Speak to your nurse if you would like to speak to either the social worker or chaplain.

Dietitians make sure the patient is getting all their nutritional requirements.

Pharmacists provide medicines and provide the ICU team with detailed information and instructions on the medicines.

Getting patient updates

Only immediate family members can be given information about a patient. Privacy is always maintained when a patient is being cared for.

Visit a friend or family member

Only immediate family members can visit a patient.

If you are immediate family and you want other people to visit the patient, you should speak to the nurse.

Visiting hours are the same as the hospital visiting hours, however ICU patients may have immediate family visit at anytime.

Do not bring children without speaking to the nurse first.

Flowers and gifts

Flowers are not allowed in the unit. You can bring greeting cards and photos of friends or family or a familiar item for the patient to look at.

The best thing you can do for people you love when they are in ICU is to be there for them.

You can touch them, hold their hand, talk to them and let them know you love them.

Tell the doctor what kind of care the patient would want.

What you can do for a family member or friend

Your family member or friend is in ICU because of a very serious illness or injury.

You can help by letting him or her know you are there.

While this is a difficult time for both the patient and the family, your loved one is in the best place he or she can be, with a team of medical experts working to make sure he or she receives the best possible care.

If you have any questions or concerns talk to the medical or nursing staff.

Caring for yourself

When someone you love is in the ICU take the time to care for yourself.

Take walks, eat regular meals, get some fresh air, read or be with friends and make sure that you do whatever you usually do to help you cope.

It is important that you are in a good state of mind and are feeling well to be able to help and emotionally support your family member or friend while they are in ICU.

Last updated: 12 May 2016

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