10 Sep 2015 No respondents
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David Seedhouse
VX Community
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You are a first year student on a placement on a hospital ward. You have been working here for three weeks and have settled into the demands of the placement with commitment and enthusiasm. As a result of your dedication you are popular amongst the clientele, and have built positive therapeutic relationships with all of them. Your mentor is pleased with your progress, and the staff team tell you that you are the kind of person that they would like to employ once you qualify.

“Ruth” was admitted during your second week. She is a 24 year old woman with whom you feel you have a close professional relationship. She has a partner and two small children and they all clearly love each other very much. You cannot help but be touched by this, and by the deep affection Ruth shows to both her children (who are two and three years old), as well as her partner. They are also very fond of you, and often talk about you and their gratitude for your good care of Ruth.

There was some mystery surrounding Ruth's admission, and so she was admitted for tests, of which she has now undertaken many. Her results are now due.

You arrive for your shift today, and your mentor says that Ruth has asked to see you specifically, although she doesn’t know why. Approaching Ruth, she asks you for a “very large favour” and then bursts into tears. She explains that her results have revealed that she has a very rare form of an especially aggressive cancer, and it is now developed to such a stage that there is nothing that can be done except palliative care; the consultant has told that she has about 10-20 days left.

Ruth is understandably devastated, particularly as she had no inkling that she was terminally ill. She now feels horribly guilty for making light and joking with the children about being ill, as she assumed she’d be home in no time. Her partner doesn’t know as yet, and she thinks that he won’t cope with the terrible news well at all, as he’s “super sensitive”.

Because of all this Ruth doesn’t believe either her or her partner are the best people to explain the situation to their children, and the favour she is asking is for you to sit down and do this for them instead. She says she knows it’s a huge thing to ask for, but she has noticed how kind, clever and professional that you are…

  • what would you do?
  • how would you feel?
  • what would you say?
  • what would you be telling yourself?

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From: Communication in Healthcare: A guide for compassionate and collaborative practice (Iris Gault et al, University of Kingston)