The Meaning of Critical Illness for People Suffering From COVID-19: When a Frightening Unreality Becomes Reality

Qual Health Res. 2022 Jan;32(1):135-144. doi: 10.1177/10497323211050048. Epub 2021 Nov 27.


The aim of this study was to elucidate the meaning of critical illness for people with COVID-19. This study used a qualitative design. Thirteen people who were critically ill with COVID-19 during 2020 and admitted to a COVID-19 intensive care unit in northern Sweden participated in the study. Data collection was conducted as individual interviews with a narrative approach, and data were analyzed with phenomenological hermeneutic interpretation. The participants did not think they would get critically ill with this unexpected illness. They experienced terrible nightmares where their relatives had been killed, and they missed their relatives both in their dreams and in reality, as they had not been allowed to be with them due to the virus. Gratefulness was described for surviving. Participants described thoughts of not being able to imagine going through this again. They felt fear and loneliness, as a terrifying unreality had become a reality.

Keywords: COVID-19; critical illness; nursing; philosophical hermeneutic interpretation; qualitative.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Critical Care
  • Critical Illness*
  • Fear
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Qualitative Research
  • SARS-CoV-2