Meet the Critical Care Unit nurse who thrives on challenge

Posted on 11 December 2016

Critical Care Unit (CCU) nursing is a specialty that requires intense training to make split-second decisions in life-threatening medical cases – sometimes without the presence of a doctor. Unit manager Fisanie Shabangu tells us the ins and outs of being a CCU nurse.

What does a Critical Care Unit nurse do?

Critical or intensive care is fast paced and requires specially trained, highly skilled medical staff. A CCU or ICU nurse is a specialist who deals with life-threatening medical cases and cares for critically ill patients admitted to ICU.

Unit manager Fisanie Shabangu has been in critical care since the opening of the cardiac intensive care unit (ICU) at Mediclinic Nelspruit in 2003. As someone who’s not satisfied with a comfortable routine, she was drawn to the challenge of dealing with something new every day.

‘I want new things, I want challenges, and the cardiac ICU challenges me every day.’

Fisanie describes a CCU nurse as someone who is trained, experienced and able to provide early diagnosis without the presence of a doctor. A general nurse would be able to recognise an abnormal ECG, for example, but would not be able to diagnose the kinds of abnormalities.

CCU nurses work partly independently and are authorised to make certain decisions, within protocol, without having to call a doctor.

Some of the cases regularly coming through her unit include coronary artery bypass grafts, unstable anginas, myocardial infarctions (heart attack), fractured ribs, and more – in essence, any cardiac problems or chest traumas. ‘If there is any overflow – when the general ICU is full – we also take cases like polytrauma patients, head injuries, and so on,’ she adds.

The highs and lows of critical care

Besides enjoying being challenged every day, Fisanie really appreciates when her team works together. ‘When your subordinates are happy, and you can really see and feel the passion in what they are doing, the patient is happy. Then you can go home and know that everything is okay,’ she says.

‘What I like most about Mediclinic is their standards,’ she adds. ‘Their policies are really good. If there is anything I don’t understand, I know there are policies that can guide me. We don’t run short of equipment, we don’t run short of medication… the tools are all there. That’s something that is of course very important.’

Fisanie says there are no double standards at Mediclinic. ‘You cannot point right and then turn left. Everybody is committed and passionate about their work; you can tell we’re all working under one company.’ She recalls having worked in both the public sector and other private hospitals where she’s dealt with the frustration of trying to do her job when equipment or medication wasn’t available, and says that doesn’t happen at Mediclinic.

A remarkable experience in the ICU

Fisanie remembers an incident where a patient experienced cardiac arrest in the unit during a period when the doctors were very busy. She performed cpr successfully, despite the patient’s weight of 155kg, and waited for the doctor to arrive to intubate him.

‘I remember looking at the weight of this patient and thinking, this is going to be a difficult intubation,’ she says. When the doctor could not get there fast enough, Fisanie made a decision and grabbed the tube. She tubed the patient so successfully that she received a pat on the back from the anaesthetist. He teased that she didn’t need to call the doctor, since she knows what she’s doing.

Later, she saw that same patient again, under different circumstances. He told Fisanie that she was a good nurse and thanked her for saving his life. ‘I don’t know how he knew it was me who tubed him,’ she smiles.

Published in Nursing

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