Hamilton Health Sciences
Intensive Care Unit (ICU)

What to Expect in the Intensive Care Unit

We understand that having a family member or friend in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) can be a very stressful time. Please feel free to ask any member of the ICU team any questions you may have.

 You may not recognize your family member or friend the first time you see them in the ICU.

It may be necessary for them to have a breathing tube. While the breathing tube is in place they will not be able to speak, drink or eat. If needed, they will be fed through a tube placed through the nose and into their stomach.


ICU patients are closely watched by the nurse who is specially trained in critical care. You may also notice a small tube in the wrist (called an arterial line) that records blood pressure and will let the nurse draw blood samples. Along with all the monitoring equipment, patients may have an intravenous line or IV.  They will most likely have a catheter in their bladder so we can measure their urine.

If there are other special lines in place the nurse taking care of the patient will explain their purpose to you.

Often many issues that the patient is dealing with can cause their body to swell with fluid. You may hear it referred to as edema. There is little that can be done to prevent the swelling. The nurses may try to decrease the effect by keeping the head of the bed slightly raised and the hands elevated on pillows. Rings may need to be removed to protect the blood flow to the fingertips. The eyes may also swell, and the inside lining of the eyelid may stick out with the swelling.

Sometimes fluids, chemicals, and toxins in the blood will make a person sleepy, confused, nasty, forcefull or even in a coma-like deep sleep. Nutrition, fluids and other therapies may be ordered in order to help manage issues with the blood.

Even though the patient is not talking or is in a deep sleep it is important to keep speaking to them. You can help by talking in soothing tones, telling stories, and supplying them with normal information to keep the brain active, yet calm. The voice of someone they know is helpful in most cases.

Terms you may hear in the Intensive Care Unit



Arterial Line or Art Line

A very thin tube put into a small artery such as a wrist to measures the blood pressure and takes a blood sample.


Beside Monitor

A TV screen showing what looks like waves. These waves represent pressures and actions in the body such as blood pressure and heart rate. 
Intravenous  Access

Peripheral Intravenous (IV)
A tube put into a vein in which fluids and medications are given.

Central Line
A thin tube put into a vein such as the neck or chest, just below the shoulder where fluids and medication are given.

It is a form of IV access inserted into the arm that can be used for prolonged period of time.

Swan Ganz
A tube, the same as a Central line, but gives more information about the heart status.

Foley Catheter


A tube put into the bladder to drain urine
Respiratory Equipment

Ventilator / Respirator
A machine that does the breathing work for the patient that is not fully able to breathe on their own. It will bring oxygen in the right amount and at the right speed.  

Bi Pap
A machine attached to a face mask that pushes air into the lungs.

Oxygen mask
A mask that brings a steady flow of oxygen.


NG (nasogastric) / Dobhoff tubes

A tube put through the patients nose and throat that ends in the stomach. It is needed to feed or give medications to the patient or remove contents.


Wrist Restraints

We have a least restraint policy within Hamilton Health Sciences but at times the use of restraints may be necessary. We will try to discuss with the family if these measures need to be used to prevent a patient from pulling out essential tubes and monitoring devices.



If your family member is in a room that is an isolation room, please STOP and read the sign posted outside the room indicating what the requirements are. Please ask the bedside nurse for assistance. Patients are isolated for few different reasons. Some of these may be:






Hamilton Health Sciences • Hamilton, Ontario • 905.521.2100

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