Rationale: Knowledge of how elderly patients undergoing major emergency abdominal surgery and their close family members experience the course of illness is limited. Little is known about how such surgery and hospitalisation affect elderly patients' daily life after discharge. It is well known that such patients have an increased risk of mortality and that their physical functional level often decreases during hospitalisation, which can make them dependent on family or homecare services. Critical illness and caregiving for a close relative can be a stressful experience for families, which are at risk of developing stress-related symptoms. Aim: To explore how elderly patients and their families experience the course of illness during hospitalisation and the first month at home after discharge. Method: A phenomenological study was conducted to gain in-depth descriptions through 15 family interviews with 15 patients who had undergone major emergency abdominal surgery and 20 of their close adult family members. Data were analysed using a phenomenological approach inspired by Giorgi. Findings: The essence of the phenomenon is captured in three themes: (1) Being emotionally overwhelmed, (2) Wanting to be cared for and (3) Finding a way back to life. Conclusion: Patients and their close family members experienced the course of illness as a challenging journey where they longed for life to become as it was before illness. They experienced illness as a sudden life-threatening incidence. In this situation, it was crucial to be met with empathy from healthcare professionals. The patients’ experience of fatigue and powerlessness remained intense one month after discharge and affected their and their close family members’ lives.
- dyadic interviews
- elderly patients
- joint interviews
- lived experiences
- major emergency abdominal surgery