The experience of critical incident stress by ICU nurses, a focused ethnography

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Bergal, Patricia
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Findings of the study indicated that the experience of critical incident stress is an extremely complex process. A multitude of variables related to the dimensions of person and environment shape the nurses' subjective response to the traumatic event. Environmental and situational variables of key importance in the nurses' experience were the duration and severity of the incident and the degree of exposure of nurses to situations where death and injury occur. Critical incidents were found to be comprised of multiple stressors and had a high degree of complexity. Individual subjective responses to the trauma were demonstrated in a multitude of ways. Intrusive re-experiencing of the incident was prevalent among the nurses. Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and vulnerability were common reactions in the days and weeks after experiencing the incident. Finding meaning in the events surrounding the incident had important healing power for the nurses. Participants who were able to cognitively re-structure the event gained a new perspective of self and of their world. As well, participants were able to sense they had triumphed over adversity, and though their incident was forever impregnated in their mind, they were able to look onward in their professional and personal lives. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)