Emotional toll of being a doctor

Don't be sad mummy

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Monday 20 June 2022
Topics: Your wellbeing
Tushar Banerjee is a Paediatric Consultant in County Durham.

I am a paediatrician and my practice involves efficient communication with both children and their parents and carers. This is a skill that I learned and am still learning.

Quite sometime back I was an SHO in paediatric oncology at St James's Hospital in Leeds and was attending a child with an advanced stage of neuroblastoma where further treatment was considered futile. His mother was in agreement with the oncology team that palliative care was the only option left.

I was visiting the bedside during the evening round and I heard the child telling his mother not to feel sad and sorry as he would be there in the sky, and whenever she would miss him in the future, all she would need to do was just to look up and he would be there for her. The belief and resolve was strong, and very 'matter-of-fact'.

His mother could barely hold her tears and came out to the corridor. As a trainee doctor I did not have enough knowledge or confidence to say anything, but I felt awful. Instinctively I followed her out of the room and just stood there by her side in silence till she said 'I am OK'.

We both stood there just outside the ward in the corridor in silence for about 15 to 20 minutes without saying a word. I could sense her grief and I felt terribly sorry as I could do nothing to help her. I did not see the family again after I returned for the day shift. Then I received a card after many months: 'Thank you for being there on that night; though you did not say any words, I heard it all that you wanted to say'.

On that day I learned that we are doctors by profession but human by emotion. There are situations when our human instinct takes over and just guides us through the most difficult communication where the spoken words are meaningless and silence is more powerful.