Exploring the recovery journey of COVID-19 critical care survivors during the first year after hospital discharge

Lena Wodecka, Christina Koulouglioti*, Ana Carolina Viera Goncalves, Adele Hill, Luke Hodgson

*Corresponding author for this work

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Objectives: To explore the longitudinal recovery of patients admitted to critical care following COVID-19 over the year following hospital discharge. To understand the important aspects of the patients’ recovery process and key elements of their caregivers’ experiences during this time.

Design: A longitudinal qualitative study using semi-structured interviews.

Setting: Two acute hospitals in South East England and follow-up in the community.

Participants: Six COVID-19 critical care survivors from the first wave of the pandemic (March–May 2020) and five relatives were interviewed 3 months after hospital discharge. The same six survivors and one relative were interviewed again at 1 year. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, anonymised and a reflexive thematic analysis was conducted.

Results: Three themes were developed: (1) ‘The cycle of guilt, fear and stigma’; (2) ‘Facing the uncertainties of recovery’ and (3) ‘Coping with lingering symptoms – the new norm’. The first theme highlights survivors’ reluctance to share their experiences associated with contracting the disease. The second theme, explores challenges faced by the survivors and their relatives in navigating the recovery process, given the unknown nature of the illness. The final theme illustrates the mechanisms survivors develop to come to terms with the remnants of their illness and critical care stay.

Conclusions: The longitudinal nature of the study highlighted the persisting symptoms of long COVID-19, their impact on survivors and coping methods amidst the ongoing pandemic. Further research into the experiences of those affected in the first and subsequent waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, is desirable to help guide the formulation of the optimally supported recovery pathways.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of the Intensive Care Society
Early online date23 Jan 2024
Publication statusEarly online - 23 Jan 2024


  • COVID-19
  • longitudinal
  • qualitative
  • recovery
  • experience

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