The extended arm of health professionals? Relatives' experiences of patient's recovery in a fast-track programme

Authors

  • Annelise Norlyk PhD RN,

    Assistant Professor, Corresponding author
    • Department of Nursing Science, Faculty of Health Sciences, Institute of Clinical Medicine/School of Public Health, Aarhus University, Denmark
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  • Bente Martinsen PhD RN

    Assistant Professor
    1. Department of Nursing Science, Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Public Health, Aarhus University, Denmark
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Correspondence to A. Norlyk:

e-mail: an@sygeplejevid.au.dk

Abstract

Aim

To report a study of the lived experience of being a close relative to a patient with colon cancer participating in a fast-track programme.

Background

Studies have documented that postoperative recovery can be accelerated and that hospitalization can be reduced through fast-track programmes. Due to the early discharge and the increasing demands on patients for self-care, patients' relatives seem to play a pivotal role in fast-track programmes. However, research is limited into how patients' close relatives are affected by and involved in the postoperative recovery process.

Design

A descriptive phenomenological approach using Reflective Lifeworld Research.

Methods

The study was carried out within the descriptive phenomenological framework of Reflective Lifeworld Research. Data were collected in 2008 from in-depth interviews with twelve relatives.

Findings

Relatives experienced a huge responsibility for both the patient's well-being and for the patient's compliance with the daily regimen. Relatives were caught in a conflicting double role. They were the extended arm of the health professionals but also the caring, supporting partner. A tension arose between relatives' desire to help the patient by taking an active part in the recovery process and the feelings of not always having the resources needed.

Conclusion

Relatives seem to suffer in silence as they bear the burden of the patient's diagnosis, the disruption of life, and the taken-for-granted responsibility for the patient's recovery process. From an existential perspective, this caring responsibility can be understood as ethical pain. Relatives should be seen as a distinct group with special caring needs of their own.

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