"They choke to death in front of your very eyes": nurses' lived experiences and perspectives on end-of-life care during COVID-19

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic led to an intensified fear and threat of dying, combined with dying and grieving in isolation, in turn significantly impacting nursing in end-of-life situations. The study aims (1) to understand the lived experiences of nurses who provided care to end-of-life patients during COVID-19; and (2) to explore whether providing care under such circumstances altered the perspectives of these nurses regarding end-of-life care. METHODS: Applying the phenomenological-interpretive qualitative approach, 34 in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted between March 2020-May 2021 with nurses from eight hospitals in Israel who were recruited through purposive and snowball sampling. Thematic analysis was applied to identify major themes from the interviews. RESULTS: Five main themes emerged from the analysis, including: (1) a different death; (2) difficulties in caring for the body after death; (3) the need for family at end-of-life; (4) weaker enforcement of advance care directives; and (5) prolonging the dying process. DISCUSSION: During the pandemic, nurses encountered numerous cases of death and dying, while facing ethical and professional issues regarding end-of-life care. They were required to administer more aggressive care than usual and even necessary, leading to their increased moral distress. The nurses' ethical concerns were also triggered by the requirement to wrap the corpse in black garbage-like bags to prevent contagion, which they felt was abusing the dead. The findings also demonstrate how family presence at end-of-life is important for the nursing staff as well as the patient. Finally, end-of-life situations during the pandemic in Israel were managed in an individual and personal manner, rather than as a collective mission, as seen in other countries. CONCLUSIONS: The study offers insights into the nurses' attitudes towards death, dying, and end-of-life care. An emphasis should be placed on the key elements that emerged in this study, to assist nurses in overcoming these difficulties during and after medical crises, to enhance end-of-life care and professionalism and decrease burnout.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35
Number of pages1
JournalBMC Palliative Care
Volume23
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 8 Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024. The Author(s).

Keywords

  • Advance care directives
  • Caring for the body of a deceased
  • COVID-19
  • Death and dying
  • End-of-life
  • Family members
  • Israel
  • Life-saving treatment
  • Moral distress
  • Nurses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine

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