Medical Terms & Technology

Your loved one will require some medical equipment and may require some procedures during their stay in the Cardiac Surgery Recovery Unit. Our health care team will explain what the equipment is and why it is being used. Please ask if you have any questions.

Here are some of the things you may encounter. If you hear a word or phrase that is not here, please feel free to ask.

Arterial line: a small plastic tube placed into an artery (in the wrist, groin or foot) that allows blood pressure to be monitored continuously and blood samples to be drawn painlessly.

Blood gases: a blood sample that measures oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood. This test is used to assess how well a patient is breathing.

CAT scan (or CT scan): a 2 dimensional x-ray. When a CT scan is arranged, the patient will travel to the radiology department on the second floor for the scan.

Central line: a medium size plastic tube placed into a large vein (in the neck, the front of the chest or the groin) to run intravenous fluids and monitor pressure in the vein.

Chest tube

Chest tube: a large plastic tube placed in the chest through the chest wall to drain air or fluid from around the lungs.

Delirium: a state characterized by confusion, poor memory, inability to focus, changes in sleep, restlessness, drowsiness or perceptual changes. Delirium can be made worse in the CSRU environment. It is not permanent but can take weeks to resolve.


Dialysis: a machine that takes over the function of the kidneys. When a patient’s kidneys are not functioning well, their blood will be put through a dialysis machine to remove waste and toxins. This may be done continuously (Prisma) or intermittently (a few hours every day or two) at the patient’s bedside.

Dialysis Catheter: a medium size plastic tube placed into a large vein (in the neck, the front of the chest or the groin) to connect to a dialysis machine.

Echocardiogram: an ultrasound test done on the chest to assess how the heart is functioning. This can be done at the patient’s bedside.

ECG (electrocardiogram): a tracing of the heart that provides information about the heart. The patient is connected to a bedside ECG machine.

Endotracheal Tube (breathing tube): a plastic tube that goes through the mouth into the airway (trachea). It is connected to a ventilator to help the patient to breathe. Putting in this tube is called “intubation” and is done at the bedside by a physician, nurse practitioner or respiratory therapist. Picture

Extubation: the procedure of removing the endotracheal tube when the patient is able to breathe on their own. This is done by the respiratory therapist.

Intra-aortic balloon pump

Intra-aortic balloon pump: a long tube that is placed through the groin into the large artery coming from the heart. A balloon on the tube inflates and deflates with each heartbeat to help the heart pump more effectively.

Isolation: Identifying when special gowns, gloves and masks must be worn when caring for a patient. When a patient carries bacteria that are resistant to certain antibiotics or have easily transmitted infections, they are “isolated” to prevent transmission of the bacteria. Since all of our rooms are “private” space, a precautions sign will be posted on the wall at the hallway entrance. If the patient requires extra protections from infection because of their immune system, they may be transferred into the main ICU.

Monitor: the large bedside screen that displays the heart rhythm, blood pressure and other information.

MRI scan: a magnetic x-ray used to look at the brain or other sections of the body. The patient will travel to the radiology department to have the MRI.

Pneumatic Stockings (SCDs): inflatable stockings worn on the legs to prevent blood clots from forming.

Pulmonary Artery Catheter

Pulmonary Artery Catheter (Swan Ganz Catheter): a special yellow catheter inserted by the physician or nurse practitioner through a large vein into the heart. This catheter provides information on how the heart is functioning.

Restraints: Patients may become confused or agitated when they are not well. When this occurs, we will do our best to assess why this is occurring and make every attempt to provide an alterative for their actions. When harm to themselves or others becomes an issue, we may use soft ties around their wrists to limit movement. The use of these ties is kept to a minimum and the nurse will routinely assess for the appropriate time to remove them.

Sedation: medication given to calm the patient.

Suctioning: Removing secretions from the mouth and airway. For the airway, a small tube is passed through the endotracheal tube and suction is applied. This may make the patient cough. For the mouth, a hard blue plastic device is placed in the mouth (similar to what the dentist might use).

Tracheostomy tube: a curved tube placed in the neck to keep the opening free after a tracheotomy. The patient will breathe through this tube.

Tracheotomy: The operation of opening a hole in the trachea through the neck to facilitate breathing. A tracheotomy is usually temporary. This operation is most often done at the bedside by a specially trained physician and an anesthetist. The patient is asleep during the procedure. The most common reason to do a tracheotomy in CSRU is to help the patient “wean” from a ventilator.

Ventilator: a machine that delivers oxygen and helps a patient to breathe.

Warming Blanket

Warming Blanket: a foil looking blanket inflated with warm air through a large hose. Many patients return from the operating room cold. The blanket is placed over the patient to warm them and reduce shivering.

Weaning: the gradual process of removing something so that the patient no longer requires support. We often talk of “weaning” the patient from the ventilator or breathing machine. During this process the work of the ventilator is slowly reduced and the patient gradually regains the ability to breathe unassisted. We also “wean” medications that support the heart and the blood pressure.