What to expect when your child is in the Pediatric ICU (PICU)

What to expect when your child is in the Pediatric ICU (PICU)

By Jayne Blackburn, MSN, RN, CCRN
Pediatric ICU Charge Nurse

Just the mere mention of the Pediatric ICU (PICU) can be frightening to both kids and parents.  But having a basic understanding of what people and equipment can be found in the PICU can help to lessen the anxiety.

What is the PICU?

The PICU at Swedish is a section of the hospital that provides the highest level of medical care for your child (0 to 18 years).  The PICU is different than just the regular pediatric floor because it allows for more intensive nursing care of your child and advanced continuous monitoring of their blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and more.  Patients in the PICU may also require more intensive therapies such as ventilators (a breathing machine) and certain medications that require close monitoring.

Who is hospitalized in the PICU?

Kids who are seriously ill whose medical needs cannot be met on the regular Pediatric unit will be in the PICU.  PICU patients may have breathing problems such as asthma or pneumonia, have had a lengthy surgery, have seizures or any other physical condition.  Time spent in the PICU depends on the child’s condition, diagnoses and response to treatment provided.

What types of equipment are found in the PICU?

Each patient room is equipped with a heart & blood pressure monitor, a monitor for breathing, and a thermometer.  There are also IV pumps to give your child intravenous (IV) fluids and medications.  There is suction available as well as oxygen.  Each room also has a sleeping cot/chair for a parent to stay at the bedside.  Other types of equipment will vary depending on your child’s condition.  You may see ventilators (breathing machine), a machine that monitors for seizures (EEG), dialysis machines, or feeding pumps.

What should your child expect when they are in the PICU?

A child in the PICU usually has a lot of wires and tubes attached to them.  Don’t be alarmed – each item has its purpose.  Some of what you may see are:

  • IVs:  Almost all kids in the PICU have an IV (intravenous) line that delivers IV fluids and medications to them.  Some situations require larger IVs that can be used to deliver greater volumes of fluids and medications. These are known as central lines because they're inserted into the larger, more central veins of the chest, neck, or groin, as opposed to the hands and feet.
  • Monitors:  These are attached to kids by “leads” which are stickers that attach to the chest.  These leads help to monitor the heart rate and rhythm as well as the breathing of the child.  Other monitors include one that wraps around a finger or toe and has a red light on it to monitor how well your child is breathing.
  • Medications & Tests:  Kids in the PICU often receive a lot of medications and may have a lot of tests ordered. 

Family Centered Care

YOU are an important part of your child’s treatment plan.  Each day you will meet with your child’s doctor to discuss their treatment plan and status.  We value your input and participation in helping your child return to their normal well-being.

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