Life In The Intensive Care Unit

Marissa Mararac

Written By: Marissa Mararac 

The Intensive Care Unit (ICU)

Working in a hospital ICU is serious business; it takes an understanding mind, quick thinking, and time and dedication to achieve the advanced skills necessary for the job. The ICU can be difficult for many nurses to handle, a situation that can lead to high turnover. Having said that, some nurses -- like ICU veteran Crystal Gustafson -- love their work in intensive care. 

“Working in the Intensive Care Unit just kind of happened,” said Gustafson. ”I originally wanted to go to physical therapy assistant school, but once I realized I couldn’t simultaneously work full-time and go to school full-time, I decided on nursing instead.” 

Gustafson worked at St. Anthony’s North Hospital in Westminster, Colorado for five years before she decided to become a travel nurse specializing in the ICU; she loved being able to assist patients experiencing invasive surgery, accidents, trauma, or organ failure. 

“For me, the ICU was the only place where I could learn most deeply about human anatomy, how the body works, and how everything comes together."  

When she first started as an ICU nurse, Gustafson felt a great deal of pressure to perform; she had to learn how to handle patients while juggling the high demands that come with the job. 

“It was crazy in the beginning with so much to do; there were so many alcoholics and drug addicts that I had to treat,” said Gustafson. "But then I learned that with anything that goes wrong in the hospital, you’re not alone and you’re able to get through it with the support of the team.” 

Finding Peace In The ICU 

The ICU wasn't always a happy place for this dedicated nursel; in fact, it took her a while before she fully and truly enjoyed being in the unit. 

“It took me a few years to not hate my job, and that was when I realized you’re not going to have a quick fix with all of your patients.” 

In order for Crystal to find inner peace in relation to her work on the unit, she participated in a variety of activities, including attending a Los Angeles-area Buddhist temple; she eventually found the most comfort blogging online about her thoughts and experiences related to her work. Through blogging, Crystal found she is more able to process and ultimately understand her own feelings towards the challenges she faces as an ICU nurse. 

Related: Must-Know Tips To Stay Emotionally Healthy As A Nurse

ICU Patients And Their Families

For most nurses employed in the ICU, the most challening aspect is surprisingly not always taking care of patients, but rather taking care of patients' families and making sure that they understand what is happening during a treatment or procedure. Gustafson shares that, when speaking with family members, nurses need to bear in mind that all they want is for their loved one is to get better and come home. 

“I think the most important thing about family members is to make the patient look presentable to them,” said Crystal. “Of course, we’re doing all that we can for our patients, but we also need to show the families that their loved ones are clean and comfortable.” 

The Benefits

According to Gustafson, although there are many challenges that ICU nurses must face, the rewards can far outweigh the difficult moments

Aside from treating patients and witnessing their recovery, ICU nurses generally have the opportunity to work with only two patients at a time; this low nurse-patient ratio affords ICU nurses the potential for a more intimate connection with patients and their families. 

“I can’t imagine leaving the ICU, remarked Gustafson. "I’ve been a nurse for ten years, and I like the challenge."

Next Up: Small Town Girl, Turned Big World PICU Traveler

Marissa Mararac

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