Many parents are shocked when they first see their child surrounded by machines, monitors, and tubes. The following descriptions will help you understand how and why they are used.
Intravenous Line (IV)
This is narrow tubing with a very small, flexible needle (catheter) at the end. The catheter is inserted into a vein to give fluids and medications. Veins are the small, blue colored blood vessels visible just under the skin. Sometimes a longer catheter is inserted into a vein in the chest. This is called a central line and it is used to help monitor fluid and blood volume.
The line (catheter) is placed into an artery. It continuously monitors your child's blood pressure and is used to collect blood samples. Arteries are blood vessels which are deeper in the body than veins. Arterial blood is bright red because it is rich in oxygen.
A small flexible tube is inserted into the bladder through the urethra to drain urine. It is connected to a bedside bag that collects the urine.
This is basically a "breathing machine." Unconscious or sedated children may not be able to cough, gag, swallow, or breathe normally. All these things help keep the airway passages in the throat clear and "maintain the airway". The ventilator can do this by sending oxygen to the lungs and breathing automatically for your child. Ventilators deliver pressure into the airway to help keep the lungs open or expanded. A child can be connected to a ventilator by either an endotracheal tube or a tracheostomy tube.
This tube is inserted into the nose or mouth until it reaches the trachea (windpipe) in the throat. The endotracheal tube can be used to suction or pull mucous from the airway. This helps keep the lungs clean and expanded. Your child won't be able to speak while the tube is in place since it goes through what is commonly called the voice box. Often, children with endotracheal tubes are sedated or unconscious.
If a child needs a ventilator for more than a few weeks, a tracheostomy tube may be inserted directly into the windpipe through a small incision or opening in the neck. A tracheostomy tube prevents irritation of the child's nose and throat which may occur with long-term use of an endotracheal tube. A tracheostomy tube can be temporary or permanent, depending on the child's condition and recovery. After the tube is removed, the opening in the neck heals quickly and well.
Nasogastric Tube (NG)
This plastic tube is inserted through the nose and travels down the back of the throat into the stomach. If it goes through the mouth instead, it is call an orogastric tube (OG). It removes air and fluid from the stomach to help prevent vomiting. Later, a smaller more flexible tube may be inserted to send food to the stomach, and it is called a feeding tube.
Gastrostomy Tube (G-tube)
A brain injury can interfere with muscle control and coordination, so chewing or swallowing may be difficult. If this is a problem, a gastrostomy tube is inserted directly into the stomach through a small incision in your child's abdomen. Liquid food is given through the tube.
A chest tube is inserted through a small opening in your child's chest to drain fluid, air, or blood surrounding the lung. This prevents the lung from collapsing and helps it to expand when your child breathes. One or more chest tubes may be used.
Intracranial Pressure (ICP) Monitor
After shaving some hair and drilling a very small hole through the skull, a special monitoring device (called a screw or bolt) is placed in the hole to measure pressure inside the skull. Seeing your child with this monitor may be upsetting at first, but it leaves only a small scar that will later be covered by hair.
Similar to a small television screen, the cardiac-respiratory monitor is usually near the head of the child's bed. Small adhesive pads, called electrodes, are placed on your child's body and connected by wires to the monitor. These pads look like bandages and do not hurt. Your child's heart and breathing are monitored in this way. If an arterial line is in place, your child's blood pressure is also monitored on the screen.
An alarm will sound if your child's heart rate, respiratory rate or blood pressure goes above or below a certain point. However, an alarm does not necessarily mean anything is wrong. The alarm can sound when your child moves around in bed. It may sound if an electrode pad is loosened and the signal is interrupted. Staff will respond to the alarm and take any action needed.
This measures the amount of oxygen that is circulating in the blood. It uses a painless sensor with a light that is usually taped to the child's finger or toe.
— It's like learning a new language in the hospital. I learned to write down my questions and not give up until I understood what they were talking about.