Intended for healthcare professionals

Practice What Your Patient is Thinking

Be brave

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 28 March 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k1299
  1. Sophie Lyons
  1. sophie.lyons12{at}

Sophie Lyons describes what it’s like to be a frightened child patient, and explains why being called “brave” doesn’t help

I was born with several heart conditions. By the age of 10, I’d had around 18 cardiac procedures: three with my chest opened, others by keyhole, others simply diagnostic. All came with general anaesthetics. Throughout my childhood I was called brave and told there was nothing to be scared of. Doctors, nurses, family members—they all said these words to try and comfort me, especially when I told them I was sad or frightened. But the words didn’t stop me from feeling scared. They just made me feel it was wrong to cry, to have these feelings, or even to talk about them.

I just needed a break

The most terrifying experience was going under anaesthetic. It was such an alien feeling—so different from sleeping—that I linked it to death. Every time I was put to sleep, I thought I’d never wake up again. My distrust of anaesthetists started around age 6. I was crying so much from the fear of …

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