What is Critical Care?
Critical care is the multi-disciplinary medical and nursing specialty which treats patients with life-threatening illnesses or injuries that require immediate treatment in order to prevent death.
Critical care can be practiced whenever a life is threatened - at the scene of an accident, in an ambulance or Medivac helicopter, in a hospital emergency room or in an operating room. Today, most critical care is practiced in hospital and intensive care units specializing in caring for patients with life-threatening conditions.
Some Intensive Care Units (ICUs) treat a wide variety of medical and surgical patients, while other units are more specialized, including:
- Neonatal Units for newborns
- Pediatric ICUs for infants and children
- Coronary Care Units (CCUs)
- Neurosurgical ICUs for brain-related conditions
- Respiratory Care Units for lung-related conditions
- Burn Units
The goal of critical care is to help patients through a life-threatening crisis and assist in their recovery in order to return to the life they led prior to the traumatic event.
Members of the Critical Care Team
- Blood Drawing / IV Team
- Case Managers
- Critical Care Nurses
- Critical Care Physicians
- EEG / EKG Technicians
- Emergency Medical Technicians
- Emergency Physicians and Nurses
- Occupational Therapists
- Other Medical Specialists
- Patient Representatives
- Physical Therapists
- Respiratory Therapists
- Speech Therapists
- Surgeons and Anesthesiologists
- X-ray Technicians
Who Should EM Talk to About Discharge Planning
The case manager, the primary point of contact regarding discharge planning issues, will assess your needs and carefully determine what type of post-hospital care you need, if any. Depending on your insurance carrier, your case manager may be able to independently make arrangements. In some instances, however, the insurance carrier significantly influences the final decision regarding the care and services provided after discharge.
These documents can help make your wishes clear. There are two kinds:
- A living will gives instructions for the care you want if you are terminally ill.
- A healthcare proxy (or durable power of attorney) lets you name another person to make decisions about your care if you become unable to do so.
In general, it's best to have both types. For additional information about advanced directive, please speak with your healthcare provider, attorney or case manager.
Suggestions for Visiting the Critical Care Patient
The following suggestions will help make the most of your visit to the Critical Care Unit:
Don't be afraid to touch the patient. If you are fearful of all the equipment, ask a nurse for assistance. A reassuring touch may be the best thing you can do for your loved one.
Be positive and supportive. Try to control your own discomfort as much as possible. Let the patient know that you are there to help.
Don't touch the equipment. If you think there's a problem with one of the machines, get help from a member of the nursing staff. Do not try to fix the machine yourself.
Share the good wishes and support of friends and family with the patient. This information can provide encouragement and expedite the healing of your loved one.
Check with the nurses to find out the CCU's policy on bringing in objects from home. A familiar touch of home can be comforting. Examples include a family picture, a blanket, a stuffed animal or a favorite book. (Critical Care Units do not allow fresh flowers or plants in the room.)
Taking Care of the Patient Involves Taking Care of Yourself
Make sure you eat properly, get sufficient rest and take care of your personal needs and business. You don't need more stress than you already have. You may have other people who depend on you. Your loved one's recuperation may take a long time, and your support will be needed for a long time to come.
Some family members are afraid to ever go home. If you are not sure it is wise to leave, talk it over with the critical care team. If they are also unsure, they may ask you to stay. Someone will be there with your loved one, and if anything changes, you will be notified immediately. Do what you feel will be best for you and the patient. The unit staff will do their best to accommodate your needs.
Taking care of yourself includes exploring what resources are available to you and asking for help if you need it. It means relying on your family and friends, clergy, the social worker and members of the unit staff who have become close to you. It may mean sharing your experience with others in the same situation. You may find that other people in the waiting room have much in common with you and can be good sources of support.
Visiting hours for critical care patients are from 11:00am until 6:30pm. "Goodnight Visits" are permitted for immediately family members only from 7:15pm until 8:00pm.