Intensive care: thriving in the unknown

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Across the world, intensive care units have shouldered the weight of hospital admissions for patients with severe cases of COVID-19. Intensive care teams began bracing themselves in late winter 2020 to handle the oncoming waves of patients, restrictions, and unknowns. Fortunately for everyone, intensive care teams thrive in the unknown.

“The unknown is what we deal with on a daily basis; we’re used to this,” says Kaleigh Newton, a registered nurse on IWK Health’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). “Working in a PICU is all about adapting to the unknown and evolving your practice with new and emerging information. The pandemic was the same. We adapted to the constant changes and prepared to assist wherever we were needed.”

Neonatal Intensive Care Team
Pediatric Intensive Care Team







At IWK Health, PICU neighbours the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and together they serve the wider Maritime region, and beyond. On both units, the patients and their families are the core focus and motivator—with or without a global pandemic taking place.

“The patients are what makes PICU unique,” Newton shares. “We focus on family-centred care so your patient is never just the five year old getting a certain procedure, your patient is the entire family who rallies around and supports the patient.”

In NICU, the sentiment is much the same. “In responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the neonatal care team continued to come together with our patients and families to ensure they continue to receive quality care that is reflective of their needs and goals, in spite of the pandemic” adds Gail MacRae, a clinical nurse specialist on the NICU. “The patients and families in NICU are incredible and no matter what, our team continues to show up for them daily. They are our ‘why.’”

Intensive care units across Canada, and the world, have shown impressive resolve, stamina and expertise in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But it took the whole team to get through it together.

“We had to communicate and set priorities for work,” says MacRae. “We had to support each other, and both listen and appreciate the trauma associated with working in health care within the confines of a pandemic.”

October 24–30 is Canadian Intensive Care Week.

photos by Gabrielle Gallant