Holding space and transitional space: stroke survivors' lived experience of being on an acute stroke unit. A hermeneutic phenomenological study

Kitty M Suddick, Vinette Cross, Pirjo Vuoskoski, Graham Stew, Kathleen T Galvin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite substantial reorganisation of stroke unit provision in the United Kingdom, limited qualitative research has explored how stroke survivors experience the acute stroke unit. This hermeneutic phenomenological study used accounts from four stroke survivors who experienced one of two acute stroke units. Through detailed analysis, the acute stroke unit emerged as a meaningful space, in two distinct but interconnected forms. As holding space, the unit was understood to offer protection and safe haven, as the stroke survivors looked to cope and respond to the temporal, bodily, biographical disruption and significant vulnerability brought about by stroke and by being in hospital. Holding was fulfilled by different people (including their fellow stroke survivors) and reflected a human response to human need and existential vulnerability. This space, and the practices within it, functioned to hold them intimately but also at a distance from their prestroke lifeworld. As such, the acute stroke unit holding space was intertwined with how it supported, encouraged or provoked transition. In the transitional space of the acute stroke unit, stroke survivors described how they survived the hospital‐healthcare space, stroke unit and poststroke space. This paper articulates how transition was meaningfully signified through its absence or presence, as they transformed, relinquished or re‐asserted their ‘self’, and in one case, recovered whilst ‘in there’. The findings of this study provide phenomenological insight into stroke survivors’ lived experience, the meaningful holding and transitional contribution of the unit, and how these spatial forms were intertwined. These insights are discussed in relation to the existing evidence base and stroke unit provision.
Original languageEnglish
JournalScandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2020 The Authors. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Nordic College of Caring Science. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • acute stroke unit
  • hermeneutics
  • holding
  • lifeworld
  • lived experience
  • phenomenology
  • spatiality
  • stroke survivors
  • transition


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