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Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU)

When your child needs special care for a critical health condition, you can be assured that he or she can be in no better hands than those of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Covenant Children's.

Our physicians, nurses and other care professionals are expertly trained and skilled in caring for children under serious or life-threatening circumstances. They are trained to deal with critical health situations and have the skills to quickly assess and treat your child to achieve the best possible outcome.

A stay in the PICU can be frightening and stressful for you and your child alike. Many of the terms, procedures and pieces of equipment used in the PICU may be unfamiliar, and this can add to the stress of your child's being critically ill or injured. Our PICU staff will do whatever they can to help reduce this stress and uncertainty. Our family-centered care philosophy ensures that you are kept up-to-date about your child's condition, and receive the information you need to make informed choices about his or her care.

The following sections will help you better understand what takes place in the PICU, and will give you tips and suggestions for making your child's stay there as comfortable for your entire family as possible. We are committed to achieving the best possible outcome for your child, and our staff will be happy to answer whatever questions you may have.

Terms you may hear:


Monitors are electrical machines used for measuring and recording body functions such as heart rate, breathing and blood pressure. All children in the PICU are monitored continuously. You will see wires that lead from your child's chest to the monitor.

Lines, Tubes and Catheters

We use the word "lines" for any special tubing inserted in the arteries or veins (blood vessels). They can be used to give important fluids or medicines or to remove blood for testing. You may hear nurses and doctors refer to "A-lines" and "C-lines." The "A" stands for artery, and the "C" stands for central. Most children in the ICU will have one or both of these lines.

  • IV (Intravenous) - An IV is a tube that goes in a vein to give fluids, for example, antibiotics.
  • Stent - A tube put in a vein to help keep it open.
  • Nasal Cannula - A soft plastic tube with two prongs that are placed in the nostrils to deliver oxygen
  • NG and NJ Tubes - An "NG" tube is placed through the nose into the stomach. An "NJ" tube goes to the small intestine. Both types of tubes are used for feeding, giving medicine or keeping the stomach empty.
  • Foley Catheter - A "Foley catheter" is a tube inserted into the bladder for collecting and measuring urine.
  • ET Tube - An "ET tube" is an artificial airway that may be placed in your child's mouth or nose to help him breathe better. Because this tube goes down the windpipe and through the voice box, your child will not be able to talk while the ET tube is in.

Your child may have one or all of these lines, catheters and tubes. Please help us prevent your child from pulling on them. Gentle restraints may be needed for this purpose.


Suctioning is a procedure that happens quite frequently when children have an ET tube. Your child cannot clear her own airway easily while the tube is in place, so we clear it by using a thin plastic catheter. This procedure is not comfortable for your child, but it is very important and lasts only a few minutes. The nurses may give medicine to help your child be calm and comfortable while being suctioned. Ask your child's nurse or respiratory therapist to explain the type of breathing assistance your child is getting.


The doctors probably will order many tests to determine what is wrong and how to help your child. We may collect blood samples for lab tests or take X-rays. For some tests, such as CT and MRI scans, your child will be taken out of the unit. CT and MRI scans are like X-rays but give clearer, more defined pictures. They are painless, but the child may have to remain still for a long time. We may give medicine to help your child stay calm for these tests.

Blood Terminology

CBC (Complete Blood Count) Measurement of the different cells in blood such as:

  • Platelets – Help with blood clotting
  • RBC (Red Blood Cell) – Cells that carry oxygen and carbon dioxide
  • HGB (Hemoglobin) – Protein in red blood cells (RBC's) that carries oxygen
  • WBC (White Blood Cell) – Cells that fight infections
  • ANC (Absolute Neutrophil Count) – Measures the number of white blood cells (WBC's) that respond first to an infection

Other Terms

  • O2 Sats (oxygen saturation) - The measurement of the amount of oxygen carried in your body.
  • Port - Device placed beneath the skin of the chest to ease access to a vein.
  • Ventilator - Machine used to help a patient breathe.
  • Vitals - Measurement of temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.

Help Us Protect Your Child

When children are critically ill, their bodies are not good at fighting off germs. Because they are much more likely to get an infection, we need to protect them, just as we protect newborns.

Your nurses, doctors and therapists at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) need your help in limiting the number of visitors and keeping your child's surroundings as clean as possible. For your child's safety, follow these four guidelines:

1. Observe visiting hours

  • Parents and guardians may be with their child 24 hours a day.
  • Others may visit 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

2. Limit visits from young children

  • Special arrangements can be made for short visits by brothers and sisters age 4-14
  • Children under age 14 may not visit critically ill children.

3. Limit visitors to two or three at a time

4. Protect against germs

  • Ask ill family members and friends to stay home.
  • Make sure everyone washes their hands before and after visiting.
  • Do not bring food and drink into your child's room. Meals for parents can be delivered to the parent living area.
  • Do not bring live plants or flowers into the room.
  • Whenever possible, meet with visitors in the waiting room.
  • This is a tobacco-free facility. Smoking is not permitted anywhere on hospital property.

Specialty Service provided:

  • Cardiology
  • Cardiac Surgery
  • General Surgery
  • Neurology
  • Neuro surgery
  • Trauma
  • Cranial Facial Surgery
  • Gastroenterology
  • Hematology
  • Oncology
  • ECMO
  • Urology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Pulmonology
  • Palliative care
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