Each room is sealed off like an air lock with thick glass. Crinkled tubes are draped in all directions over the patient's bed and connect to unfamiliar machines that beep and hum.
To take away some of the mystery, Doctors Hospital opened its ICU to the public on Thursday. The west Augusta hospital hosted the open house in tandem with Critical Care Month and featured a mock up of the typical ICU room.
Sue Charlton is one of the specially trained nurses who work exclusively with ICU patients.
Even after more than 20 years in her position, "Every patient stands out in their own dynamic way," she said.
Patients at Doctors are brought in for almost all acute and critical conditions, excluding trauma. Kidney failure, stroke and heart attack victims are common visitors; one man was brought in a few days ago after choking on a hot dog.
The definition of "intensive care" becomes more clear after an explanation of all the machines that surround a patient's bed. Typically three to five nurses are on hand during the initial set up of the equipment, which provide a real-time look at the body's condition, and supporting functions such as breathing.
Afterward, one nurse is usually caring for only two patients out of the 18 averaged in the ICU. That means the nurses become intimately familiar with the patient's needs and can anticipate most emergencies.
"There aren't too many surprises," Charlton said. "We'll be on the phone with the doctor before the code happens."
The ICU at Doctors expanded from 16 to 24 private beds in 2009. Today the hallways are wide, the walls and meticulously clean floor colored in neutral shades. Each patient averages five days in the ICU before moving to a regular floor of the hospital.