OBJECTIVE: The objective was to explore nurses' experiences of caring for non-sedated, critically ill patients requiring mechanical ventilation.
DESIGN AND SETTING: The study had a qualitative explorative design and was based on 13 months of fieldwork in two intensive care units in Denmark where a protocol of no sedation is implemented. Data were generated during participant observation in practice and by interviews with 16 nurses. Data were analysed using thematic interpretive description.
FINDINGS: An overall theme emerged: "Demanding, yet rewarding". The demanding aspects of caring for more awake intubated patients included unpredictability, ambiguous needs and complex actions, while the rewarding aspects included personal interaction. Three sub-themes were identified: (i) caring for and with the patient, (ii) negotiating relational and instrumental care and (iii) managing physical and emotional closeness.
CONCLUSION: Despite the complexity of care, nurses preferred to care for more awake rather than sedated patients and appreciated caring for just one patient at a time. The importance of close collaboration between nurses and doctors to ensure patient comfort during mechanical ventilation was valued. Caring for more awake non-sedated patients required the nurses to act at the interface between ambiguous possibilities and needs, which was perceived as both demanding and rewarding.