What is an ICU and Why Am I Here?

March 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Acute Hospital Care

Most people define their lives by who they are and what they do.  If you find yourself in an intensive care unit (ICU), the emotional part(s) of your life remain in the background.  Your life is now defined in a much more scientific way.  Are you breathing independently?  Are organs working properly?  While friends and family out in the waiting room hope and pray for your condition to improve, you are more relaxed than you’ve ever been.  Your state of mind vacillates between unconscious and semi-conscious.

You have one or more nurses assigned directly to your case, as well as a small team of doctors who are stationed just outside your room.  You now reside amongst a small army of lifesaving machines and the hospital-style beeps that serve as constant reminders that the machines are still doing there job.  Visitors enter the room in small groups or by themselves.  Exhaustive testing, prep, and medical procedures take up the majority of your day.

If you could will yourself to remain conscious, you would see more emotion than you could have ever imagined from family and friends.  Some would walk in and simply stare silently in disbelief.  Others spend their visit in quiet prayer and reflection at your bedside.  Family members and close friends spend their time telling you the things they wish they had told you before.  Things like how much you mean to them and how much they are pulling for you.

An ICU is note for the weak of heart.  A number of your visitors peer cautiously into your room and simply don’t have the heart to enter.  Others do enter but can’t even bring themselves to say anything.  Their faces say it all… they are scared for you and worried about whether or not you will make it out of here.


ICU vs ER:  What is the Difference?

It is easy to confuse the phrases “intensive care unit” and “emergency room.”  The difference is a matter of active medical care.  An emergency room is the first line of defense against immediate medical issues, while an intensive care unit is where you land if the issues are too great to allow for discharge.  An emergency room treats major cuts, bruises, and other injuries, while intensive care units are the landing pad for patients after immediate treatment for major injury.   Many ICU patients have had strokes, brain injuries, or other major organ failure.  Their heart and lungs are frequently failing, and they would likely die if separated from the machines that are keeping them alive.

You are in the ICU because of a serious medical issue.  Things are as precarious for you as they have ever been.  If things start going badly, your life will hang in the balance.  Your heart, lungs, or brain may have sustained serious damage and your life is now in the hands of specially trained doctors and nurses.

Your family is stressed and bewildered as they try to make sense of what doctors and nurses are telling them.  Even if things work out for the best, they have begun wrapping their mind around the new definition of a “full recovery.”  While it once meant you would be the same person you were before, it now means recovering as much function as you can.  Your chances of living a completely independent life have taken a serious hit.  Instead, the future is one that will mold your mind.  You will learn that each future day is special and any setback could result in a major life change.

This experience will change your life more than you ever thought it could be changed.  You will find that people from your present and people from your past come together to form a patchwork army of support.  There is nothing like the possibility of death to remind people of how much you mean to them.

Whether you make it out of this room depends on your injury, your body’s propensity to heal, and your spirit’s will to live.  The pages of the rest of your story will be written by you and by God.  Those who arrive at your bedside will talk, touch, hope, and pray.  They will encourage you to fight and support you throughout.  If you are able to continue recovering, these same friends and family will eventually come and visit you at your next placement:  the step down unit.

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One Response to “What is an ICU and Why Am I Here?”
  1. Georgia Loughran says:

    I also had a amnionic embolism 16 years ago. And you’re right about when people come into the ICU. I still remember they had me tied down Because I kept touching the breathing machine that was down my throat so I would pull it out. I still Have the notes that I used to write In ICU. I didn’t get to see the baby for three weeks because ICU but I do remember the first time I seen a photograph of her.

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