Emma Wilson, who was born without an oesophagus (gullet), has been in and out of intensive care units for most of her 17 years. Here she explains why being on PICU isn’t scary.
Being on PICU may seem a bit scary at first, but there is nothing to worry about.
If you know you're having major surgery, you'll know you'll be going to PICU afterwards. The good thing about knowing in advance is that you can ask questions to find out more about what to expect and possibly arrange a visit so you can meet the staff beforehand.
When you wake up on PICU, you'll be surrounded by noisy machines and monitors. The monitor is really a bigger version of the normal little oxygen level monitors you find on the wards.
You will also have a breathing tube down your throat or your nose, connected to a ventilator. This will help you breathe until you are strong enough to breathe on your own. Unfortunately, because this tube is down your throat, you will not be able to speak. But your nurse will help you find an effective way of communicating with people.
The other machine you will have is a pump, connected to a drip. You may have an arterial line (this is usually in your arm) to enable the doctors to monitor the carbon dioxide levels in your blood. You will have some fluid through this line but this is just to prevent it becoming blocked. It is possible that you will have special food called TPN which enables all the nutrients and vitamins to enter your body until you are strong enough. You are likely to have a central line in your neck, which enables three fluid therapy lines to be attached to one drip and this can be annoying as it may feel like there is something being pulled on you, but you have to try and keep still otherwise it may become harder for the nurse to get to it.
If your drip comes out, don't panic. You can have special anaesthetic cream which numbs the area, so it won't hurt much when the new drip goes in.
If you are in pain when you wake up after your operation, you will be given painkillers, most likely morphine. You can have a special morphine pump, which enables you to deliver your own if you need it.
Doctors and chest physiotherapists will visit you every day and you'll mostly see the same ones.
Life on PICU might seem a bit daunting at first, but you'll get used to it. The good thing is that your mum or dad can visit whenever they want and they can stay with you when the doctors come round. The nurses are all really friendly and they enjoy a good chat with you once you're able to talk again.
It can get quite boring while you're attached to drips and wires, as you can't really do anything apart from watch television.
If you have to stay in PICU for quite a while, the nurses can help you to decorate your bed space with posters, photos and cards that people may have sent you to make it more personal.
Going on to PICU seems like a big thing but just think of it as an extra-special ward where you're given plenty of high-tech machines to help you get better quickly.