The overall aim of this thesis was to describe patients’ and spouses’ experiences of suspected acute myocardial infarction in the pre-hospital phase. A descriptive survey study was conducted to identify various factors influencing patient delay in 381 patients with suspected myocardial infarction hospitalised at a Coronary Care Unit (I) and ambulance utilisation among 110 myocardial infarction patients (II). In order to obtain a deeper understanding of the myocardial infarction patients’ own conceptions about the event, an interview study with a phenomenographic approach was conducted with 15 strategically selected myocardial infarction patients (III), within 72 hours after admission to hospital. Finally, the pre-hospital experiences of 15 spouses of myocardial infarction patients were also studied through interviews with a phenomenographic approach, within 48 hours after the affected partner’s admittance to hospital (IV). The results showed that 59% of the patients with suspected acute myocardial infarction delayed > 1 hour after onset of symptoms. The most common reasons given for delay in seeking hospital admittance were: (1) Did not consider the symptoms as to be severe enough that they warranted hospital care, (2) thought the symptoms to be temporary and that they would disappear, (3) the chest pain was more of a dull pain, (4) or, as one third of the patients chose to do, contacted the general practitioner instead of going directly to the hospital (I). Furthermore, as a first action, 59% consulted their spouse for advice about what to do henceforth. The most common reason for additional delay when the decision to go to hospital had already been taken was that the myocardial infarction patients stated that they were unaware of the advantages of a rapid decision-making process. Sixty percent went by ambulance, but it was the spouse (40%) or the personnel at the general practitioner’s office (32%) who called the emergency service number, rather than the patient him/her self (5%). The most frequently given reasons for not choosing ambulance, were that the patients did not perceive their symptoms as being serious enough to require ambulance transportation (43%), followed by that they had not thought about ambulance as an alternative at all (38%). As a third reason for not going by ambulance, the patients stated that it was unnecessary to call an ambulance when being affected by symptoms related to a myocardial infarction (26%). The patients who called an ambulance differed in some respects from those who went by private alternatives; patients with large infarctions (ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction) went by ambulance more frequently, as did patients suffering from nausea and severe chest pain (II). The patients expressed in the interviews how the interaction with others, described as the need for supportive environment, worries for the family and the utilisation of the health-care resources, was of great importance in the pre-hospital phase. Likewise, symptom awareness, with earlier experiences of a similar situation to compare with, denying the seriousness of the situation and the use of different self-care strategies, were important in order to manage the situation. Vulnerability, expressed as anxiety and a lack of control, also influenced the decision-making process in the pre-hospital phase (III). Spouses seemed to have a strong influence on the course of events when their partner suffered an acute myocardial infarction and it emerged from the interviews how the spouses in many cases were influenced into sharing the denial of the affected partner by respecting his/her independence. The spouses accepted the partner’s need for control; took earlier marital roles and experiences into account; restraining own emotions and seeking agreement with their partners, contributing to delay. However, being resourceful by sharing the experience; having knowledge; understanding the severity; being rational and consulting others when needed, seemed to have a positive influence on the decision time in the pre-hospital phase (IV).
Conclusion: The reasons for delaying or not in the pre-hospital phase, as well as the reasons for utilising the ambulance services or not, varied considerably between individuals. Earlier experiences of MI did not influence what actions to take; instead patients’ feelings, emotional attitudes to MI symptoms, inadequate coping strategies, and spouses’ influences were important components in the pre-hospital phase.