Ruth Affo
March 2021
Student Nurse
Rowan Ward
Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust
United Kingdom




I talked the lady through what was going on while Ruth was present. She offered empathy in her silence, she genuinely cared for this lady.
One weekend I was involved in the care of a man in his 80’s who died of COVID. His wife was also a patient in NGH, and the couple’s family could not visit to tell the lady that her husband of approximately 60 years, had died, due to shielding. The lady was also in the early stages of dementia. I visited to tell the lady who was being looked after by Ruth, a student nurse in her final placement. Ruth and her colleagues knew what I was about to tell the lady and we tried to get her away from her bed space in a bay to give us some privacy.

However, the lady clearly sensed that we were going to tell her some bad news and was beginning to get distressed and I, therefore, had to tell her in the bay, with the curtains pulled around her bed space. This nomination is not for anything that Ruth said, she didn’t need to say anything because as an experienced palliative care nurse I was “happy” to be the news giver. It is for what she didn’t say.

Understandably, when I told the lady that her husband had died, she sobbed, as did Ruth and I. I was knelt in front of the lady holding her hands and Ruth sat next to her on the bed, holding her as she cried. This was an incredibly emotional time, and Ruth had the humanity and the sense not to try and fill the silence. We let the lady cry. Ruth held her and helped her feel safe. We were then able to facilitate taking the lady to see her husband on the ward that he died on.

Once again, Ruth didn’t need to say anything. I talked the lady through what was going on while Ruth was present. She offered empathy in her silence, she genuinely cared for this lady. Once the lady felt that she could say goodbye to her husband, we took her back to the ward with Ruth pushing the wheelchair and me holding the lady’s hand. Once again, Ruth did not try and fill the silence. Silence is such a powerful communication skill, but often people try and fill it with needless chit-chat. At this point, the lady needed time in her head to think about what was going on.

When I eventually left the ward and the lady in the care of Ruth and her colleagues, I knew that this compassionate care would continue. I knew that the lady would be continued to be cared for and supported. Having these necessary but very difficult conversations are never easy, but I was glad that Ruth was there to support the lady in such a kind and empathic way. The skills she demonstrated may seem simple, but I know that many people would have either avoided being involved in such an emotive situation or ruined it by filling the silence by feeling the need to talk. Effective communication, including the use of silence and empathy, whilst demonstrating compassion and kindness, is a skill that Ruth demonstrated perfectly, and it will make a lasting difference to the lady’s grief. Thank you, Ruth.