Emotional toll of being a doctor

Six questions that made me cry

Updated: Tuesday 22 October 2019
Marina Platts is a consultant in rehabilitation medicine in Yorkshire and the Humber.

I've recently had the most difficult conversation of my whole medical career.

It was a meeting with an upset and worried relative. A relative who was overwhelmed by the enormity of the illness in his loved one. A relative who was upset and anxious about why doctors hadn't been able to heal, or cure, or provide certainty in an uncertain world. A relative who had watched his loved one transfer through four different trusts, numerous consultants and a year in hospital, yet still didn't feel that he had been spoken to or had an explanation of what was going on.

He knocked on my office door and handed me a typed letter, outlining six questions he would like answered. This was, of course, at 5.30pm, when I was already late to pick up the kids.

The thing is, he was a kid himself.

A 10-year-old boy, concerned, confused and worried about his mum. Questions with impossibly hard answers. Questions I didn't have answers for, but questions he needed answers to.

The truth was awful, the prognosis dreadful. The wider family trusted me. I had spoken to them at length.

I had to do right by this little lad. I had to tell the truth, as this is what he was desperately seeking. I also had to ensure that this was not the moment that crushed him of all hope.

I had to tell the truth, as this is what he was desperately seeking. I also had to ensure that this was not the moment that crushed him of all hope.

Marina Platts, Consultant

The responsibility was huge. I was overwhelmed. My own 10-year-old was carefree, and her worst fear was not making the hockey team.

I ran that night. My fastest ever 2km. In the dark, as my 10-year-old did hockey training. I'm not sure whether it was sweat or tears that ran down my face.

I sought help and advice. Hospice, psychology, chaplain, the Internet, a charity and a well-known medical online forum.

I fretted for a week. I prepared. Quiet room, props, written answers, easily understood language. Chocolate.

There were tears. Too much chocolate was eaten.

We made it to the end of the list of questions.

I called his family next day to check he was OK. Caring friends texted me for the same reason. Colleagues stayed late to let me 'debrief'. A friend offered to come round with wine.

I sought solace in yet more chocolate, a large gin and an episode of Bake Off.

The little lad is coming to see me again this week. I hope he's not broken.