During my time on an oncology ward I had the pleasure of caring for a man who I will name Peter.
Breaking bad news with compassionate communication
Peter, who was 62 years old, had malignant melanoma and was admitted with sepsis. He had been on the ward for some time when I was able to form a nurse-patient relationship with him and his wife. Peter’s wife (who I will name Lauren) visited him regularly, however, most of the time she was quite tearful.
Peter was due to have a full-body MRI but he was confused and agitated due to the sepsis. Lauren expressed her concerns about Peter not being able to cope in the MRI scanner in his current state.
I sat down with Lauren and reassured her – stating that I would go down with Peter and be in the room with him while he was having the scan. Lauren felt much more at ease and thanked me.
I then approached Peter’s doctor, asking if a mild sedative could be prescribed. The sedative was administered and I held Peter’s hand throughout his journey with the porters to the MRI room and during his scan.
When we arrived back on the ward, Lauren was waiting for him in anticipation. I explained how well Peter did and reassured her.
I then left to speak to the doctor, who was reading Peter’s MRI report. His doctor stated that the melanoma had spread and that he was in the last few months of his life.
“Compassionate communication is an essential skill for nurses”
Lauren wanted some cream for Peter, so I searched different wards to get this. On return Lauren was talking to a nurse in the relatives room. I knocked and stated that I had retrieved the cream for Peter. Lauren said: “Charlotte, please come in. I’ve just been told Peter is dying.”
She was in absolute distress. I sat beside Lauren and held her while she cried, holding her hands. After some time the nurse explained again what the report showed and what the next stages will be.
On reflection, I have learnt that compassionate communication is an essential skill for nurses alongside active listening and non-verbal communication.
I have also learnt that the grieving process for each individual is different and some situations may be difficult and distressful for the patient and relatives. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that the patient or relative hears me say “I’m here for you”.
Charlotte Collins is a second-year adult nursing student at Bournemouth University