Learning About Your Family's Role in the PICU

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What is a PICU?

A pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) is a part of the hospital where children who are very sick get care. It could be a special unit for children with heart, breathing, or other serious medical problems. Children may go there to recover after surgery. Or they may get treatment for an injury or exposure to poison.

How can you help in the PICU?

You are an important part of the care team along with doctors, nurses, and specialists. You can help make decisions about what is best for your family.

The staff will help you learn what you can do to care for your child. Spending time with a child in the PICU can improve their stay in the hospital.

Depending on your child's condition, it may be hard for your child to talk. If they aren't able to talk now, you can touch them or hold their hand and be near them. You may want to bring special items for your child, such as a blanket, a favorite toy, or family photos. Ask the staff what items are okay to bring.

If you are there when nurses change shifts and doctors visit, you can get to know the whole care team. You can make sure that you have a voice in your child's care. You can be an advocate for your child.

You can also help share information with extended family and friends. It will help the hospital staff if just a few people close to your family serve as contacts. There are websites that can help you keep friends and family up to date on your child's condition.

What can your family expect in the PICU?

There are lots of things happening in the PICU that might be hard to understand at first. The staff can help you learn about the equipment and medical words being used. And they can help you understand the rules and procedures in the PICU.

  • The staff are experts at keeping your child as comfortable as they can. Your child will get medicine that keeps your child relaxed and pain-free.
  • The equipment that's used in the PICU may make noises and flash. But it's helping the medical staff take care of your child. It may supply oxygen, fluids, or medicine. Or it may keep track of vital signs.
  • A ventilator may be needed to help your child breathe. It may bother your child and make it hard to talk.
  • The PICU staff is highly trained to care for children who are very sick. They will do everything they can to help. You can ask for support from friends and family. You and your family can also ask the hospital staff about counseling and support.

What questions can you ask in the PICU?

You can ask the PICU staff any questions that you have. For example, you might ask the nurse:

  • Which doctors and specialists are helping us?
  • When can I visit? Is there anything I should know about visiting my child?
  • Do you know how to get in touch with me in an emergency?
  • How can I help?

And you might ask a doctor:

  • What kind of treatment are you providing?
  • How will we know if it's working?
  • What can I do to help?

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.