Closeness and distance: a way of handling difficult situations in daily care


  • Karin Blomberg BSc, RN,

  • Eva Sahlberg-Blom PhD, RN

Karin Blomberg
Department of Health Sciences
Örebro University
Telephone: +46 19301270


Aims and objectives.  The aim of this study was to describe how care team members caring for patients with advanced cancer describe how they handle difficult situations in daily care. In this paper ‘difficult situations’ refers to those situations team members themselves describe as difficult.

Background.  Serious illness and impending death involve great changes in a person's life. The care of patients with advanced cancer is complex and many different factors influence each care situation. This places demands on the way care team members handle problems and difficulties in daily care.

Design.  Qualitative descriptive study.

Methods.  The study is based on 16 focus group discussions with care team members who were caring for patients with advanced cancer at three different care units in two Swedish cities. The focus group discussions included 77 participants. The procedure for data analysis was inspired by the phenomenological method.

Findings.  The results show that care team members handled difficult situations by balancing between being close and distancing themselves. In most situations their choice of strategy seemed spontaneous rather than being a conscious decision, although it was sometimes described as a more conscious approach. Variations of closeness and distance that were identified were Identity, Meaning, Limit-setting and touching, Prioritization, the Team and the Organization. These could also be seen as tools that could facilitate or impede the use of closeness and distance.

Conclusions.  The results show that care team members have a need to reflect over daily care and to become aware of what governs different care actions.

Relevance to clinical practice.  If the experienced difficult situation is not handled in a way that is beneficial to the care team member, patient and relatives, it is assumed that this can result in stress, burnout and, above all, non-optimal care.