I worked ICU and CCU for decades, and loved PACU, too. I never felt i had to skimp on my care in PACU, but, maybe i didn't work in the PACU you worked in. I worked in several PACUs, in house, and free-standing outpatient surgery centers, and felt we gave very good, veyr comprehensive care to our patients,
and yes, we did use "critical thinking skills" all the time, all the time. It seemed kinda a slam to PACU nurses to suggest they don't use critical thinking skills, or must not want to solve problems. I'm sure you didn't mean to sound like that, but, it's possible some might think you are suggesting that PACU nurses are half-milers. They aren't.
Like any other dept, there might be a few staff that are less than stellar, and whenever we are dealing with recently anesthetized humans, there can be unexpected changes and problems. But overwhelmingly, the PACU nurses i've worked with, were dedicated, yes, THINKING and caring, hardworking nurses who'd do most anything to ensure their patient is safe and comfortable. Actually, that's true of any group of nurses i've worked with, and PACU is no exception.
but yes, learning to streamline your care to try to fit most* of your patients into the expected time frame for recovery, does take some awesome multitasking and focus, no question on that.
*It's almost never "all" of your patients, cuz of some patients do take longer to reach the criteria for discharge than others.
PACU is one heckuva expensive dept, and you better have a valid reason to go much over the standard times the org wants you to strive for. (like pain control issues, respiratory issues, etc) BUT, it gets easier to get the rhythm going, to develop an understanding of how much time you do have, how to multitask, how to prioritize, etc.
Maybe if you give it a little more time, you might find PACU is a great way to nurse. I loved it, anyway.
Probably, when you first got to CCU, you might have felt a little bit behind there, too, at first. New depts do take some time, i think, to become very good at that dept.
btw, i did find the stress level in PACUs in free-standing outpatient surgery centers was about half of the inhouse PACUs, imo.