Critical Care Nursing: Scenarios & Case Studies

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Mitchell

Jennifer is a clinical professor for nursing students in critical care and has several years of experience in teaching nursing.

In critical care nursing, there are patients that need specialized care and this may be different for each one depending on the severity of their illness. Study what a critically ill patient is through various scenarios and case studies. Updated: 12/23/2021

What Is a Critically Ill Patient?

So you're interested in becoming a critical care nurse. What types of patients might you be caring for? What is involved? Let's begin with defining critically ill patients.

Critically ill patients need to be monitored often due to medical instability, and they typically depend on breathing tubes and require blood pressure stabilization medication. As such, they are cared for in a hospital's intensive care unit (ICU). There are several different types of ICUs, including cardiac, trauma, medical, surgical, neurological, even pediatric and neonatal.

Let's discuss some common scenarios for critically ill patients.

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  • 0:04 What Is a Critically…
  • 0:45 Cardiac Case Study
  • 2:11 Neurological Case Study
  • 3:33 Surgical Case Study
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Cardiac Case Study

Scenario 1

You are caring for a 56 year old man in the ICU who was admitted for chest pain to rule out myocardial infarction (heart attack). He has a history of high cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure), and he smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. His heart rate and blood pressure are elevated.

What are your initial thoughts? He's got several lifestyle and medical factors that put him at high risk for heart attack. As his care provider, there are several things that need to be accomplished. First of all, it's important to complete an assessment. See if he's currently having chest pain and have him describe it to you. Perform a 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) to assess the heart and see if anything is out of the ordinary.

He will need oxygen to help his heart muscle that is dying from potential blockage. Because his heart rate and blood pressure are elevated, he needs medications to bring those down to normal levels. Blood needs to be drawn to evaluate his cardiac enzymes, which will tell you if damage is actually occurring in the heart muscle.

The cardiologist, or heart doctor, needs to be notified of all of your findings to help form a plan. This patient will need a trip to the cardiac catheterization lab (cath lab) so the cardiologist can open up the blocked blood vessel in the heart to restore blood flow. This is a common scenario in the cardiac ICU and usually ends in a good patient outcome.

Neurological Case Study

Scenario 2

Your patient is a 28-year-old woman in the neuro (brain) ICU who was in a motor vehicle accident and sustained a head injury. She has no medical history. Her heart rate has dropped and her blood pressure is elevated.

What do you think is going on here? Injury to the brain can be tricky to care for, especially when trauma is involved. When there is injury to any part of the body, inflammation (swelling) occurs as part of the body's normal response.

Unfortunately, with a head injury, there's not much room for swelling other than the opening at the base of the skull, the foramen magnum. This is where the brainstem sits, which is responsible for regulating the heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. When inflammation of the brain occurs, the brainstem is compromised and pushed through the foramen magnum (brainstem herniation), which affects the heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.

The healthcare provider should be notified immediately of these findings. She will need medication to decrease the swelling in the brain, computerized tomography (CT) of the head to see what's happening in the brain, and perhaps surgery to drain fluid and decrease the pressure on the brainstem. This is a common scenario in the neuro ICU and unfortunately does not always end well.

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