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Intensive Care

What is it like to wake up in Intensive Care?

The intensive care unit (ICU) is an area of the hospital that is unfamiliar to many people. As a congenital heart patient, the prospect of a stay in intensive care is a real one.

As intensive care nurses, we would like to share with you what the Cardiac ICU in Southampton is really like, and what happens to you as a patient staying there.

About Southampton Hospital

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust provides services to some 1.3 million people living in Southampton and South Hampshire, plus specialist services such as neurosciences, cardiac services and children's intensive care to more than 3 million people in central southern England and the Channel Islands.

The Trust is also a major centre for teaching and research in association with the University of Southampton and partners including the Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust. Many of its services are based on the one site just outside the centre of Southampton.

The cardiac intensive care unit (CICU) in Southampton hospital is a well established unit. Over the years it has transformed from a small eight-bedded area, to a large purpose-built unit capable of caring for 16 ventilated patients. We have more than 100 nurses, many of whom are specialist in this area and work alongside other disciplines, such as physiotherapists, dietitians and medical teams.

We admit on average four to seven patients a day, many of whom have had routine elective cardiac surgery. We also look after congenital heart patients who may have had complex surgery or an invasive procedure, which requires a higher level of observation afterwards.

Preparing for your Intensive Care stay

In Southampton, as well as in other centres around the country, pre-operative visits for patients and their families are available. The specialist congenital heart nurses will show you around the area and introduce you to some of the staff. During this time you can have a look around and ask any questions you may have. It allows patients to see where they will be waking up and their families to know where to come and what to do when they arrive after surgery.

Waking up in Intensive Care

When you first come out of surgery we give you medication to keep you asleep. This is so we can make sure everything is stable before waking you up. It is a very safe place to be. You have your own nurse who looks after you and only you. Before you wake up you will be given painkillers to make sure you wake up as comfortable as possible.

When you are ready to wake up we turn the sedation drugs down and you will wake up. We take the breathing tube out of your mouth as you wake up. You will have medicines to keep you as comfortable as possible. Remember, you have your own nurse in intensive care,

who will be there to make sure you are comfortable and your needs are met, whether you need medicine, a drink or someone to sit with you and hold your hand.

In our CICU we allow visitors 24 hours a day. This means that your family can come and go as they wish, and be with you when you wake up. We have facilities for family members to stay in the hospital or very close by. You can bring some of your own home comforts, such as music, books or pictures to have during your stay. We have TV and DVD players so you can watch films and from 2013 you will be able to sit and watch TV to pass the time and catch up on your favourite programmes.

Your stay in intensive care may only be a few hours, or for several days or longer. This is something your doctor will talk to you about before having your operation.

If you have any particular fears or concerns, talk to your doctors and specialist nurses. While your stay in intensive care is unavoidable, your care team will always aim to make it as comfortable and positive as possible.

Helena Francis Clinical Nurse Specialist
Stacey Hart Sister in Cardiac Intensive Care Southampton NHS Foundation Trust

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