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Chronic illness, Critical care, End-of-life, Mechanical ventilation, Palliative care, Transition



  1. Crighton, Margaret H. PhD, RN
  2. Coyne, Bridget M. MSN, CRNP
  3. Tate, Judith MSN, RN
  4. Swigart, Valerie PhD, RN
  5. Happ, Mary Beth PhD, RN


Traditionally, the intensive care unit (ICU) has focused on reversal of life-threatening illness. Patients with incurable cancer admitted to the ICU present unique challenges for clinicians when these patients transition to end-of-life (EOL) care. A dimensional analysis of a single case study from a larger 30-case ethnographic study was used to explore the cancer patient's transition to EOL care in the ICU. Family members and clinicians had different expectations of care, which resulted in divergent treatment goals and desires for the patient, a 62-year-old woman with presumed pneumonia and underlying terminal glioblastoma multiforme. The attending physician and palliative care consultant unified family members' and clinicians' divergent goals and desires through a mediating process of probing the family about the patient's wishes. This process unified those involved and brought them to a place of acceptance. This case illustrates the turning point and rationale for the shift to EOL care in the ICU and the important role that communication plays in the transition. Understanding individual and family processes and family members' need for time to adjust to the transition to EOL is an essential element of practice within ICUs that increasingly manage terminally ill cancer patients.