Family Members' 'Work of Getting Through' Critical Illness: A Call for Nurses to Lighten Our Load
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Background A critical illness constitutes a crisis for family members. While family members necessarily yield primary responsibility for the physical well-being of their ill relative to the health professionals, they remain significant in promoting the over all well-being of the patient. They set to work to manage the situation as best they can in order to get through. Objectives To explore family members’ experiences with critical illness from their perspective, as a basis for delineating the process of nursing support for them. Design Two grounded theory investigations of nursing support for family members of critically ill adult patients were conducted (Vandall-Walker, Jensen, & Oberle, 2007; Vandall-Walker, Clark, & Pyne, ongoing). Methods/ Participants/ Setting Following ethical approval, participants were recruited from three tertiary care centres in northern Alberta, Canada, using posters and word-of-mouth. To date, 30 family members from 20 families have taken part in 37 interviews. Findings Participants revealed that their ‘work of getting through’ involved physical, emotional, and behavioural responses to fulfill their needs, influenced by their personal resources and the intensity of their love and commitment to the patient. The proposed explanatory model of family member <i>‘work of getting through’, provides a basis for the supportive nursing actions outlined in the grounded theory of ‘Lightening Our Load’ (Vandall-Walker et al., 2007). Conclusions The nature and intent of this ‘work’ has received minimal research attention. These findings extend our understanding of the family member experience with critical illness beyond current knowledge of family burden, stress and coping, and need recognition and fulfillment. It further legitimizes their role and the significance of involvement at the bedside.