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Keywords:

  • death;
  • dying;
  • end of life;
  • end-stage renal disease;
  • haemodialysis;
  • qualitative content analysis;
  • qualitative interviews;
  • serial interviews

Aims and objectives.  To describe inner thoughts and feelings relating to death and dying when living with haemodialysis approaching end of life.

Background.  Patients who undergo maintenance haemodialysis suffer a significant symptom burden and an impaired quality of life. The high mortality rate in these patients indicates that about one-fourth of them are in their last year of life, suggesting the presence of death and dying in the haemodialysis unit.

Design.  A qualitative descriptive design was used.

Methods.  A total of 31 qualitative interviews were conducted with eight patients (aged 66–87) over a period of 12 months. Qualitative content analysis was used to analyse data.

Results The analysis revealed 10 subthemes that were sorted into three main themes. Being aware that death may be near comprises being reminded of death and dying by the deteriorating body, by the worsening conditions and deaths of fellow patients, and by knowing haemodialysis treatment as a border to death. Adapting to approaching death comprises looking upon death as natural, preparing to face death, hoping for a quick death and repressing thoughts of death and dying. Being alone with existential thoughts comprises a wish to avoid burdening family, lack of communication with healthcare professionals and reflections on haemodialysis withdrawal as an hypothetic option.

Conclusions.  Living with haemodialysis approaching, the end of life involves significant and complex existential issues and suffering, and patients are often alone with their existential thoughts.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Nurses and other healthcare professionals in haemodialysis settings need to combine technical and medical abilities with committed listening and communication skills and be open to talking about death and dying, with sensitivity to individual and changeable needs.