AIM AND OBJECTIVE To explore in depth the experiences of nurses' caring for SARS patients in Hong Kong. BACKGROUND Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) dramatically demonstrates the global havoc that can be wreaked by a newly emerging infectious disease. The current literature either has a predominantly biomedical focus or deals with the psychological impact on healthcare workers. Published studies on the lived experience of nurses caring for SARS patients are currently lacking. DESIGN A phenomenological design. METHODS Using methods consistent with Husserl's philosophy, eight Registered Nurses working in three regional hospitals in Hong Kong were invited to participate in sharing their lived experience of caring for SARS patients and data were analysed using Colaizzi's approach. RESULTS The three major themes explicated were: the various emotions experienced in caring for SARS patients, the concept of uncertainty and revisiting the 'taken for granted' features of nursing. CONCLUSION These themes, when taken together, describe the essence of the voyage undertaken by nurses who cared for SARS patients during the outbreak. The findings of this study indicate that extensive and ongoing support is needed to prepare and enable nurses to care for SARS patients during a crisis and make it easier for nurses to deal with the various uncertainties. RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE The essence of caring for SARS patients is highlighted in this study. The experience of caring for SARS patients prompts nurses to find meaning in their experience(s), and to develop knowledge and attitudes on how best to care for patients and prepare for a new crisis in the future. This paper considers a more in-depth understanding of the lived experience of nurses during the crisis and the relevance of this perspective for education and support of nurses.