A ventilator is a machine that assists a patient's breathing. A tube is inserted through either the patient's nose or mouth and into the windpipe. The tube, which is known as an endotracheal tube (ET tube) is connected to a machine that blows air and extra oxygen in and out of the lungs. The machine can 'breathe' completely for a patient or it can be set to assist a patient's breathing. The support given from the ventilator can be gradually reduced when the patient’s condition improves. This is described as weaning.
If a patient is likely to remain on a ventilator for more than a few days, the endotracheal tube in their mouth is sometimes replaced with a tracheostomy tube. In this case, an operation is carried out to insert a tube into a hole which is made in the neck. Although this can look rather strange, it is actually quite comfortable for the patient compared with having a tube in their mouth. A patient will not usually be able to use their voice while the tracheostomy is in place.
Most patients in an ICU require extra oxygen. This may be given through the ventilator or by a mask over the nose and mouth. The mask can be removed for brief periods.
Equipment for fluids
Patients are attached to drips which allow liquids to be passed through tubes into veins, usually in the side of the neck, arm or hand. There are various substances commonly used in drips e.g. blood, drugs, fluids and food. Tubes which drain waste fluid from different areas of the body can also often be seen around a patient.
Equipment for monitoring blood pressure
Patients often have a small tube called an arterial line inserted into an artery, usually in the wrist. This monitors blood pressure continuously.