Journal Article
Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
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The experience of critically ill children: A phenomenological study of discomfort and comfort.

BACKGROUND: Emerging evidence indicates that critically ill children are particularly at risk for incurring significant psychological harm. Little is known about these children's actual experiences.

AIM: The aim of the study was to examine children's experience of critical illness. The research question was: What are a critically ill child's sources of discomfort and comfort?

DESIGN: Interpretive phenomenology was selected as the study's method. Children's accounts were examined to identify what they considered meaningful, in terms of their experienced discomfort and comfort. Data sources included formal and informal interviews with child-participants, drawings provided by some participants, and field-notes documenting observed non-verbal data.

SAMPLE: Twelve children were enrolled in the study, ranging from 3 to 17years of age; including four girls and eight boys.

FINDINGS: Although all participants were able to discuss the discomfort and comfort they experienced, they reported difficulties in remembering part or most of their experience. Some participants characterized their Pediatric Intensive Care Unit stay quite favourably or as "not that bad", while some described their experience unfavourably. Diverse types of discomforts were reported, including fears and worries, hurt and pain, invasive interventions, missing significant people, noise, food or eating problems, boredom, physical symptoms, as well as four additional discomforts reported by individual participants. Several sources of comfort were described, including parents, visitors and friends, hospital staff (principally nurses), stuffed animal/favourite blanket, entertainment and play, food, selected medical interventions, thinking of going home, being able to walk or run, sleep, waking up, gifts, along with two other comforts reported by individual participants. Embodiment and a tension between aloneness and being with were identified as the principal phenomena underlying these children's experiences.

CONCLUSION: The findings complement existing knowledge regarding the psychological impact of critical illness by highlighting how children regard specific phenomena as discomforting or comforting. This sheds light on future directions for practice and research development in pediatric critical care.

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