What to expect during an ICU stay

Family Health
Sep 17, 2019

From the number of guests to visiting hours, here’s what you should know when a loved one is in a critical care unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital or Candler Hospital

There may come a point where you or a family member require a stay in a critical care unit. It can be a stressful and confusing time. At St. Joseph’s/Candler, we have a trained team of nurses and physicians to help you through the process.  

The intensive care unit is designed to treat the sickest patients in the hospital, whether it’s an acute problem, a chronic illness or post-surgical. The ICU team plans, evaluates and provides the specialized care of patients around the clock. Because of the severity of some of the patients’ conditions, nurses work with just two or three patients at a time to provide dedicated care.

Sara Reeves, Nurse“We have a great team of nurses that are super passionate about what they do,” says Sara Reaves, RN, BSN, CCRN, clinical nurse educator for ICU and PCU at Candler Hospital. “They love taking care of the patients, but not only them, the families as well.”

About our critical care units

Both St. Joseph’s Hospital and Candler Hospital have general ICUs. These units assist both medical and surgical patients requiring critical care, such as those who show indications of respiratory failure or renal failure or complications from chronic illnesses such as COPD or diabetes, Reaves explains.

St. Joseph’s Hospital also has two specialized critical care units: Coronary Care Unit (CCU) and Neuro Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

The CCU specializes in care for patients who have had heart attacks, heart rhythm disturbances or complex heart cauterizations procedures or interventions. This unit also is for immediate post-op patients who have had open heart surgery. Patients in CCU are closely monitored for heart rhythm, oxygen saturation, blood pressure and any other heart conditions.

The NICU specializes in the care of patients with neurological diagnoses such as head injuries, brain tumors, cerebral vascular accident, stroke, hemorrhages of the brain, amongst others. Nurses have a clear view to each room in the NICU and use the latest technology to monitor brain activity, vital signs, respiratory function and heart rhythms.

Additionally, both hospitals have dedicated space for the Progressive Care Unit. PCU provides care for patients coming out of more critical units. It often serves as a step down unit between ICU, for example, and an acute floor within the hospital, Reaves says.

The ICU team

The critical care units at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Candler Hospital consist of a team of specially-trained physicians and registered nurses who have successfully completed critical care courses and competency-based credentialing.

Additionally, patients in ICU may be seen by physical, occupational or speech therapists, wound care/ostomy nurses, dietitians, patient advocates and others. In all critical care units, clergy visit daily and offer on-call support for patients, family and staff.

“We are always close by our patients,” Reaves says.

Visiting hours

Visiting hours for the critical care units are different than those of the main hospital floors. Unit doors open at 8:30 a.m. and stay open until 2 p.m., Reaves says. Then, patients have a two-hour rest period where visitors are asked to leave, the lights are turned down and the ICU doors close.

“We have patients that are weaning off a ventilator or going through physical therapy and this gives them time to rest,” Reaves says. “It’s also a really good time for the families to take care of themselves. We take care of the families just as much as we take care of the patients here.”

Visiting hours resume from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and then again from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. and then the doors are closed until 8:30 a.m. the next morning. An overnight guest is allowed; however, the ICU staff strongly encourages family to go home to take care of themselves.

“They can really wear themselves out being here all day long, listening to these beeps and alarms and things going off,” Reaves says. “Especially in ICU, we encourage them to keep their rest up now because they will probably end up needing it wherever the patient goes after this.”

Patients in critical care units are allowed two guests at a time, and visitors are welcome to filter in and out during visiting hours, Reaves says. Each critical care unit has a designated waiting area. If a family member were to need something when the ICU doors are closed, there are door bells to reach the staff.

Working with the families

The ICU team works closely with family members. They help educate the family, update them of a patient’s condition and serve as a liaison with the physicians, amongst many other things.

Additionally, the critical care units have started Bedside Shift Reports. This is where one family member is allowed at the bedside when the teams do shift reports, or basically switch out staff in the morning or evening.

“It keeps them up to date on everything going on so they, along with the patient, know all the ends and outs of what the plan is and can ask questions if they need to,” Reaves says. “We want our patients and families more involved in their healthcare. So far it’s been going well.”

Reaves and other critical care staff understand having a loved one in ICU is stressful. She encourages families not to hesitate to ask any questions.

“I know sometimes it’s hard to see, especially with some of our sicker patients, exactly what is happening,” Reaves says. “It may be hard to see that their condition is improving or changing at all, so sometimes just asking about the day-to-day things we are doing for our patients helps the families, that even though it doesn’t look like anything is changing, these are the things we are doing to help your family member get better.”

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