Leaving the intensive care unit: a phenomenological study of the patients' experience

Intensive Crit Care Nurs. 2002 Dec;18(6):320-31. doi: 10.1016/s0964-3397(02)00069-1.


Discharge from intensive care (ICU), is said to pose difficulties for patients; a phenomenon referred to as "relocation stress". However, this phenomenon has not been fully examined, particularly from the critical care patients' perspective. This study, therefore, explored the lived experience of transfer from ICU to the ward. Phenomenology, based on the interpretative Heideggerian approach was used to guide the study. A purposive sample of six participants was selected. Open interviews were used to collect data. Participants were interviewed twice; once in ICU, prior to transfer, and once in the ward following transfer. The findings revealed that pre-transfer, participants were mainly accepting of their impending transfer. Participants discussed a desire for normality and identified that leaving the ICU staff was the most negative component of transfer. In the post-transfer period, findings revealed mixed feelings regarding the actual transfer. Participants were still suffering from physical complaints, which led to feelings of despondency. Differences between ICU and the ward were also highlighted. Finally, the enormity of the ICU experience appeared to have an impact post-transfer. The results of this study indicate that transfer from ICU can be problematic for some individuals. However, caution is required regarding the use of the nursing diagnosis of relocation stress without obtaining an individual perspective on experiences. Recommendations include the need for greater continuity of care for those recovering from critical illness.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health
  • Critical Illness / psychology
  • Humans
  • Inpatients / psychology*
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Transfer*
  • Patients' Rooms*
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology