Being in a critical illness-recovery process: a phenomenological hermeneutical study

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Aims and objective.

The aim of this study was to describe and interpret the essential meaning of the lived experiences of being in a critical illness-recovery process after a life-threatening condition.


The critical illness-recovery process after a life-threatening condition takes several years and does not only include patients' experiences during intensive care. Previous research has mainly focused on what critically ill patients recall. However, from a phenomenological point of view, experiences are more than memories alone. To plan and perform relevant health care and social support for patients who have survived a life-threatening condition, a more profound understanding about their lived experiences is needed.

Design and method.

In this qualitative study, a phenomenological hermeneutical approach was used. Interviews were conducted with seven patients, two to four years after they had received care in an intensive care unit in Sweden.


The comprehensive understanding of the results shows that the critical illness-recovery process after a life-threatening condition means an existential struggle to reconcile with an unfamiliar body and with ordinary life. This can be understood as an ‘unhomelikeness’ implying a struggle to create meaning and coherence from scary and fragmented memories. The previous life projects, such as work and social life become unfamiliar when the patient's fragile and weak body is disobedient and brings on altered sensations.


Patients who survive a life-threatening condition have an immense need for care and support during the entire critical illness-recovery process, and also after the initial acute phase. They need a coherent understanding of what happened, and support to be able to perform their changed life projects.

Relevance to clinical practice.

Supporting and caring for patients' recovery from a life- threatening condition involves recognising the patients' struggle and responding to their existential concerns.

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