The first sight of a family member in an intensive care unit can be shocking. Tubes stick out of nearly every orifice, connecting to respirators, heart monitors, blood supplies and other life support systems.

To explain what intensive care is and how families can prepare for it, the Foundation for Critical Care Medicine sponsors Critical Care Day tomorrow on the Mall near Fourth Street and Independence Avenue SW.

"Critical care is a multidisciplinary medical care specialty which treats patients with life threatening illness' or injuries who require immediate treatment to prevent death," said Sally Schwartz, executive director of the Foundation. "Because it's a new, very high-tech area and because people don't like to think of themselves as critically ill, there is not enough awareness or understanding of the system."

A critical care unit will be set up on the Mall, and participating hospitals will provide ICU beds with equipment and monitors. Hospital nurses will be available to answer questions. In addition, the National Guard will set up a mobile military hospital.

Four panel discussions will be held at the Department of Health and Human Services, 330 C St. SW. Topics such as living and coping with critical care and facing the end of life in the ICU will be addressed.

Outdoor events are scheduled from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and panel discussions are held from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For more information, call: 775-0721.