People who survived the Indian Ocean tsunami or lost loved ones in the disaster went through a complex process of trauma and grief, according to research in Sweden published in the latest Journal of Advanced Nursing.
In-depth interviews carried out over the course of a year by nurse researchers found that a number of common themes emerged when they talked to people about their emotions and attitudes to life following the tragedy.
They hope that these will provide useful guidance to help nurses and other healthcare professionals to deal with traumatic events in the future.
The emotions expressed by the study participants ranged from the initial pleasure of being on a dream holiday, through to the trauma of the event, their grief and loss and the way that families pulled together to come to terms with what had happened.
Although the final death toll will never be known, the earthquake off the coast of Sumatra on 26 December 2004, and the resulting tsunami, are estimated to have killed somewhere in the region of a quarter of a million people.
They included 543 Swedish tourists, including 140 children under the age of 18. A further 66 Swedish children lost at least one parent.
“We carried out one-to-one and group interviews with 19 people recruited in collaboration with the Swedish Red Cross to find out how the event had affected them” explains lead author Dr Maj-Britt Raholm from Haugesund University College, Norway.
“The paper just published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing looks at their initial reactions to being caught up in this international tragedy and we will be reporting our longer term findings in due course.”
The team, which also included experts from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, started the interviews with the 13 women and six men, aged from 24 to 67 years, 21 months after the tsunami. Interviews were undertaken a further five times, at eight-week intervals.
Twelve of the people they spoke to were on holiday when the tsunami struck. They included a man who lost his daughter and his mother and a couple who lost their child. The other seven participants were at home in Sweden. Some lost as many as four family members, including children, in the tragedy.
“The experiences of the tsunami survivors and their relatives revealed a comprehensive picture, which broke down into three distinct phases,” says Dr Raholm.
“These can be summarised as experiencing the core of existence, a changed understanding of life and the power of communion.”