What to expect in PICU

A stressful environment

Children on PICU can be very unwell or may be recovering from significant injury or surgery. There are many machines, monitors, tubes and alarms near each bed. The environment can be busy with many highly-skilled people looking after children. This is because some therapies provided in the PICU are not available in other parts of the hospital.

The PICU can be a very frightening and stressful place for children and parents.

Staff want you to be involved in your child's care plan

Your presence and support is extremely important for your child. Staff want you to be involved in your child's care.

You are encouraged to ask questions as many times as you need to. Staff also understand that you may need things to be explained many times. Staff also want to make sure you are involved with your child's care plan as much as possible.

Visiting your child

Parents and carers are encouraged to visit whenever they want to. There may be extra requirements about visiting the PICU compared to the hospital wards. This is because of how unwell many children are on PICU. It is also to help protect patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff will let you know about COVID-19 precautions.

You will be asked to clean your hands on arrival to the PICU. You may need to wash your hands again before coming into your child’s room. You may also be asked to wear a mask and other personal protective equipment while visiting your child.

Caring for yourself

Caring for your child means that you also need to care for yourself and your mental health. Looking after a child with a critical illness has been described as a “marathon”.

Pace yourself and ensure that you have adequate rest, food, and exercise. Making these things a priority will help you to manage while your child is on PICU. Caring for yourself will also help you and your family manage when your child comes home.

Everyone copes differently and there is no right way to manage what is happening.

These are suggestions for looking after yourself:

  • Alternate hospital visits with another parent or carer so you get enough rest. If you have other children, this also helps give them some time with you
  • Make time for yourself. Take some time away from the bedside. Take a walk, have lunch outside.
  • Reach out to family and friends and others in your support network.
  • Ask and accept offers of practical help from family and friends. They may be able to help with meals, child care and other things.

Managing calls from concerned family and friends

Some families find it very stressful to answer the many calls from concerned family and friends. It can be helpful to ask one person (family or friend) to take the calls for you and keep others up to date. Some families set up a group message.

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Related topics

This topic was reviewed by a paediatric intensive care specialist in July 2022.

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