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- 7 Apr 17

Before becoming a mother I was able to sympathise with parents of unwell children, but I never truly understood the intensity of fear felt by parents when their child is sick.

When my children are sick- regardless of what the cause is- my sensible doctor head will calmly and rationally go through the potential causes and outcomes, and weigh up the risk of it being anything serious.  This is the bread and butter of my work.  But the overriding mother voice will be screaming internally, “but what if it’s meningitis?!  What if they need to be admitted to hospital?  What if they need intensive care?!”.  My stomach feels sick and I can’t sleep until they are well, even if rationally I know that they will be fine.

Before motherhood, I never truly appreciated how quickly children can change from looking horrendously sick to looking absolutely fine.

When my pre-schooler was still a baby she had a fever that made her limp and floppy.  When her eyes started rolling back in her head I called 111 in a panic, only to be asked if I wasn’t sure that my baby was simply falling asleep.  Of course I was sure- “I’m a qualified doctor”, I shouted, and insisted that she was seen immediately.  I whisked her off to the emergency GP appointment, but by
the time we got there the calpol had kicked in and she was smiling and blowing raspberries in the waiting room.  I will never forget the GP saying that she was a well-looking child, and the embarrassment that caused me. It was a lesson I will never forget.  I would never make their parents feel embarrassed if their feverish child looked well by the time I saw them, because I know how quickly things can change.

I also understand how heart wrenching it is to see your child unwell.  When my baby had bronchiolitis I would have done anything to change places with him and be the one that was sick.  When he had his immunisations I would have done the same, and he was only upset for a matter of seconds.

I too understand the fear that your child might be diagnosed with a serious illness.  I have cried privately when children who are patients at my surgery have been diagnosed with life-altering or life-threatening illnesses, because I truly understand the desperation and love that their parents feel for them and how utterly awful it must be.

Being a mother hasn’t changed the way I practice medicine, and it hasn’t changed the way that I assess or manage unwell children.  But what has changed is that I can now truly empathise with their parents- and I think that has made me a better doctor for it.

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Claire Ashley

I am a GP registrar currently working in the South West, and a mother of 2 young children.

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