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  • Writer's pictureNikita Boston-Fisher

Glossary - Conversation with a COVID ICU Nurse

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

In our episode titled Conversation with a COVID ICU nurse, quite a few medical terms were used. I thought it would be helpful to list them here (with links as necessary) in case anyone wanted to explore the terms further. Where I thought it would be helpful, I included a "bottom line" definition along with the more formal definitions. Terms are listed in the order in which they were mentioned in the episode.

  • Trauma hospital: Bottom Line - A hospital equipped to care for patients suffering from traumatic injuries such as falls, vehicle accidents or gunshot wounds.

Details: Hospitals are designated based on the level of care they are able to provide. The American Trauma Society ranks hospitals based on five levels. Level I (one) is the highest and level V (five) is the lowest. A level I (one) trauma hospital is able to provide care for all aspects of the most serious types of injuries, for example, gunshot wounds, car accidents etcetera with 24 hour coverage. A level V (five) is able to evaluate and stabilize the patient for safe transfer to a higher level care. It does not have the full range of services as a level I. See a complete explanation of all the levels explained here on the American Trauma Society website.

  • Ventilator - a machine which helps patients to breathe when they are unable to do so on their own.

  • ECMO - bottom line: it functions like an external lung

Details: ECMO is short for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. Our lungs usually oxygenate our blood. In ECMO the blood is pumped out of the body, is oxygenated by a machine and then pumped back into our body bypassing the lungs. The Mayoclinic explains it well here. It requires highly specialized practitioners.

  • FI O2 - stands for Initial fraction of inspired oxygen. It is the percentage of oxygen in the air that we breathe. Normal air that we breathe is 21% oxygen or an FI 02 of 0.21. Patients who have trouble breathing are given higher percentages of oxygen.

  • CVICU - Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit

  • Cannulate the patient - to insert a cannula into a patient. A cannula is a tube which can be inserted into the body. There are many different types which can be used depending on what needs to be achieved.

  • Get trach’ed - refers to a procedure called a tracheostomy. A surgical procedure to help a patient breathe. More here.

  • Intubated - placement of tube into a patient’s throat to help them breathe. More from WebMD here.

  • Telemetry or step down floor - a unit for patients who are no longer sick enough for the ICU but not well enough for the regular floor.

  • on BiPAP - Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) - this is a machine which helps with your breathing. A nice explanation can be found on the Johns Hopkins medicine website here.

  • High-flow - refers to High Flow Nasal Cannula - another means used to help us breath easier. More info here.

  • Dialysis - Normally our kidneys filter our blood in order to remove waste, if the kidneys fail, a dialysis machine is used to do the job. Learn more here.

  • Intensivist - a doctor who works in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU); a physician who takes care of critically ill patients


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