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The I.C.U. Is Not a Pause Button

Opinion Piece By Kristen McConnell, New York Times, August 26, 2015
A nurse explains dying in an intensive care unit and corrects the impression that being in ICU is a “pause.”
“When I first realized that in intensive care we held lives in limbo more often than we saved lives, I asked a friend who was a more experienced nurse how she felt about that. She said that sometimes a stay in the I.C.U. lets a patient’s family prepare for his death. But while it may soften the shock of death for the family, being in the I.C.U. is unpleasant and bizarre for the patient.”
“I’ve often spoken with patients’ family members who seem to feel that an I.C.U. is a time-free holding zone; that intensive care functions as a pause button. Those conversations usually take place on the phone. It’s harder to believe in this pause button when you witness the constant poking and suctioning, the invasive examining and monitoring, the parade of medications and the contraptions necessary to deliver them, the lights and alarms, the coughing and grimacing and shuddering — or, in the less responsive, the bloating and stiffening or slackening and eventually the eerie dehumanization of both the patient and the caregiver. Thinking that intensive care can pause the march of time is a misunderstanding or a willful fantasy. There are always bargains to be made and discomforts to be faced in a place that is staving off death.”

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