Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Nursing

Dissertation Committee

Caroline Etland Ann M Mayo Kathleen Stacy


C. difficile, phenomenology, lived experience, photo-elicitation


Background: Clostridioides difficile (C. difficile) is the most common healthcare-acquired gastrointestinal infection in the United States. While there is a plethora of information on the treatment and diagnosis of C. difficile infection (CDI) in the literature, there is a paucity of research findings describing the lived experience of a person with the disease.

Objective: This study described the lived experience of patients who have had one or more CDIs.

Lines of Inquiry: There were two lines of inquiry for this study: (1) Describe the lived experience of having a CDI, and (2) determine if photo-elicitation as a research modality enhanced the participants’ ability to describe the feeling of what it was like to have a CDI.

Methods: This is a qualitative, phenomenological study that explored the lived experience of persons who have had a CDI. The study participants (1) participated in a 1:1 semi-structured interview, and (2) engaged in a photo-elicitation opportunity. Participants took photographs with their smartphones and sent them to the principal investigator prior to the interview. After the semi-structured interview, the photographs were reviewed by both the participant and the principal investigator. All interviews were recorded and professionally transcribed. Using a selective highlighting approach, the transcripts were reviewed, and themes were identified based on commonalities between the transcripts. Themes identified when reviewing the photographs were compared to themes identified through the interview. Key sentences or sentence clusters were aligned with each theme. Ultimate understanding of the lived experience was facilitated by the writing, reflecting, and re-writing of the text.

Results: Themes identified include physical suffering, emotional state/mental aspects of CDI (sub themes fear, anger, depression, anxiety, and social isolation), loss of trust in the healthcare system, and cautious hope.

Conclusion: The essence of the lived experience of having a CDI is as follows: C. difficile is a grim, systemic disease which causes both debilitating physical suffering, emotional turmoil, and social isolation.

Keywords: Clostridioides difficile, phenomenology, lived experience, photo-elicitation, quality of life

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access



Available for download on Thursday, May 01, 2025

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Nursing Commons