The Intensity of Intensive Care: A Patient’s Narrative

  •  Alida Herbst    
  •  Cornelia Drenth    


This qualitative study involved action research to explore one woman’s narrative of awareness, emotions and thoughts during treatment in an intensive care unit (ICU). The overarching aim is to increase insight into the thoughts, feelings and bio-psychosocial needs of the patient receiving treatment in ICU. Data was collected by means of narrative discourse analysis. Literature on the psychosocial and spiritual implications of ICU treatment is limited, and often patients have no recall of their treatment in an ICU at all. Documenting the illness narrative of this individual case is valuable as the participant could recall a certain amount of awareness, thoughts and emotions. These experiences included delirium, anxiety, helplessness, frustration and uncertainty. Once sedation was decreased, the patient’s consciousness increased and she was confronted with thoughts and emotions that were unrealistic and frightening. It was found in this study that the opportunity to share a narrative on the emotions and awareness during treatment in an ICU had cathartic value and the participant suffered little symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome, often associated with long term treatment in an ICU. Further research on this topic is necessary to improve ICU treatment, not only on a physical level, but with emphasis on the psychosocial and spiritual needs of the patient.

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