A narrative inquiry into the experience of surviving a cardiac arrest

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Cardiac arrest accounts for approximately 20% of deaths in Western societies, although the survival rate is increasing. This leads to the question, or puzzle, of how does post-cardiac arrest survivors’ experience life after cardio-pulmonary resuscitation? A cardiac arrest is a catastrophic and tumultuous event for all involved, but little is known of survivors’ individual experiences. This thesis aims to provide an original contribution to knowledge about individuals’ experiences of surviving a cardiac arrest and includes six articles published in peer reviewed journals.
A modified approach to Connelly and Clandinin’s narrative inquiry framework has been used to address my research aim and unpack my research question/puzzle of participants’ experiences of surviving a cardiac arrest. Connelly & Clandinin’s (1990) narrative inquiry supports the concept that people live “storied lives and tell stories of those lives” (p. 2), where telling and retelling lived experiences creates order and makes meaning of experiences. Stories are collected, studied and narratively described as research findings. In this thesis I analysed my participants’ stories through a three-dimensional space/lens involving temporality, place and sociality.
Eligibility in this inquiry required participants to have survived a cardiac arrest, be living independently in the community and fluent in English. Seventeen participants, including four females and 13 males, participated in a semi-structured interview. The participants had a diverse background in education, employment, age, and living conditions, ensuring a broad spectrum of experiences. Meetings were held from November 2016 to June 2017, at a time and place of shared convenience. While narrative inquiry normally has a small numbers of participants, in this inquiry, a larger number of participants expressed interest. All fulfilled the inclusion criteria and participated in an interview, hence a modified adaptation to Connelly and Clandinin’s narrative inquiry approach was used.
Findings are presented in three published articles, each focusing on specific time periods: the immediate time before and after the cardiac arrest; the transition from hospital to home; and following long-term survival. The immediate time before the arrest describes an ordinary time changing to an extraordinary event where survivors had no control, entering a liminal space of chaos and confusion. As they returned home their changed reality became confronting. Extra time and effort were needed to complete everyday tasks. Mental (memory loss and thinking capacity) and physical (slowness and fatigue) limitations were daily reminders of their changed reality and future. However, long-term survivors became comfortable in their embodied reality; life had settled. The event remained a vivid memory. The cardiac arrest had altered their life, but they had adapted to their limits and found acceptance in living as a cardiac arrest survivor.
For the survivor, the cardiac arrest is a defining moment where their life changed in a moment from ordinary to an extraordinary and unknown reality. The survivors entered a liminal space of betwixt and between involving a ‘before’ and ‘after’ the event. An awareness of liminality may well help healthcare professionals to understand what support survivors of cardiac arrest seek from their illness experience.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Newcastle
  • van der Riet, Pamela , Principal Supervisor, External person
  • Inder, Kerry, Co-Supervisor, External person
Award date24 Nov 2021
Place of PublicationNew South Wales
Publication statusPublished - 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'A narrative inquiry into the experience of surviving a cardiac arrest'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this