BACKGROUND: Neuromuscular blocking agents are used in critically ill patients to induce therapeutic paralysis. These drugs leave patients fully immobile but conscious. Analgesics and sedatives are concomitantly administered with the paralytic agents. Little is known about what patients remember when they receive these combinations of drugs. Even less is known about the experiences and needs of the patients' family members during the patients' paralysis. OBJECTIVES: To obtain recollections of therapeutic paralysis in critically ill adult trauma patients and to determine the psychological, emotional, and educational needs of the patients' family members during the time the patients were paralyzed. METHODS: A qualitative phenomenological approach was used to investigate the "lived" experience of therapeutic paralysis of 11 pairs of subjects. Each pair consisted of one critically ill adult trauma patient and one member of the patient's family. RESULTS: The patients recalled their experience of therapeutic paralysis with vagueness, as if they had been dreaming. Few recalled pain or painful procedures. Patients remembered having nurses and family members provide emotional support and encouragement. Family members understood the rationale for use of the drugs. They remembered being encouraged to touch and talk with patients. The subjects suggested providing additional education about events that occur when paralysis is being reversed. CONCLUSIONS: Two confounding variables may have affected these findings: a liberalized visiting policy and use of effective pain and sedation protocols. Healthcare professionals and patients' family members should monitor bedside conversations and use touch and words of encouragement to support patients during therapeutic paralysis.

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