The experience of surviving life-threatening injury: a qualitative synthesis

Int Nurs Rev. 2012 Sep;59(3):312-20. doi: 10.1111/j.1466-7657.2012.00993.x. Epub 2012 Apr 17.


Background: To summarize and synthesize research that explored the experience of surviving life-threatening injury in adolescents, young persons and adults.

Methods: Informed by systematic literature review strategies, a description of the experience of individuals who survived life-threatening injury was sought by reviewing 13 studies with qualitative data on the phenomena. Data were managed using NVivo software and synthesized using thematic analysis to elicit meaning.

Results: The review synthesized a substantial number (n=273) of participant experiences of traumatic surviving life-threatening injury and revealed that during the initial 3 years following life-threatening injury, the individual goes through a shifting, iterative process in order to reconstruct various aspects of their injury and themselves, including mental, emotional, spiritual, physical and relational facets. Three major themes were illuminated: a time of chaos, negotiating injury and reconciling injury. In order to navigate through the experience of injury, family members were key sources of affirmation and support in anchoring the person to their life, in reconstructing themselves in the aftermath of injury and in coming to terms with the impacts of injury.

Conclusion: This qualitative synthesis describes the iterative process individuals go through following life-threatening injury and the overwhelming need to reconstruct aspects of self as a way to create meaning. It demonstrates the need to gain further understanding of the influence of the family in recovery from injury and indicates that education is required to provide practical strategies to assist clinicians to develop appropriate and relevant patient goals and expectations.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Survivors
  • Wounds and Injuries / psychology*
  • Young Adult