COLUMNIST and trained counsellor Fiona Caine answers another set of reader dilemmas.


Back in November, my dad developed a dry cough. At the beginning of December, he was admitted to hospital when he started to struggle with his breathing. He tested positive for coronavirus, so we weren't able to visit him, to hold his hand, or even eventually say goodbye.

The staff at the hospital did everything they possibly could for him, but like so many others, this virus sadly claimed my dad's life just before Christmas.

I've been dealing with an overwhelming feeling of grief and sadness, but I'm incredibly aware of everyone's struggles and difficult experiences of the past 12 months.

When so many people have sadly lost loved ones, I can't help but feel like my grief isn't unique, and therefore not justified.

I'm trying to keep a stiff upper lip and to get on with my life, but I feel like he was taken from me too soon. Am I the only person feeling this way?

J. R.


I'm absolutely sure you're not the only one feeling this way. Sadly, many people have been through a similar experience over the past year. The pandemic has had a huge impact on us emotionally. Like you, many are suffering and deeply saddened by the way in which loved ones have died alone - apart, of course, from the hospital staff who have been there with them.

Not only is your grief fully justified, but it is also necessary - so please don't think that keeping a stiff upper lip is the way forward. We all need to grieve when people we love and care about die, and bottling up that grief can cause long term psychological damage. The fact that so many people have had a tough time over the past year does not reduce your loss and your need to grieve.

Whilst in normal times, a funeral, with supporting friends and family, can really help that process, sadly even that has been denied to vast numbers of bereaved people right now. Whilst some funerals have continued to take place, numbers attending have been limited. Further, many of those who might have wished to attend were unable to, because they were forced to isolate, or due to restrictions.

The charity Marie Curie (, that provides care and support for people with terminal illnesses, has seen a huge increase in demand for its support services. Which is why they have called for and are leading a National Day of Reflection, to remember those who have died during the pandemic and show support for the millions who have been bereaved.

There will be a minute's silence on Tuesday, March 23 at midday, where people can show their support for the millions of people who've been bereaved. It is also a day in which you're encouraged to take a moment to connect with someone you know who's grieving. The charity believes it is vital that we make time to commemorate those who have died, and they hope this day will bring us together to pause, reflect and support each other.

Unfortunately, we will still be subject to restrictions, but could you, perhaps, use the day as an opportunity to connect with family - perhaps through an online memorial for your dad? Could you also make the day special in other ways - perhaps everyone in the family could share (remotely) your father's favourite meal? I'm sure you could think of other ways in which you could give the day over to your grief and, if you need help coping with this, remember the Marie Curie Support Line on 0800 090 2309.


I left my local doctor's surgery fit to burst last week. I'd had a telephone consultation with another doctor that didn't help at all, so I'd waited weeks to get a face to face appointment about the almost constant cramp in my legs.

When I walked into the room, I spoke to him for about a minute before his phone rang. I then had to sit through eight of my allotted 10 minutes listening to him dealing with someone else's problem. When I did finally get his attention, all I got was: "I don't know what's wrong. Why don't you try diet and exercise? I'm so busy, I must get on."

I was made to feel guilty for wasting his time with what he obviously thinks is a trivial problem, but it's not trivial to me. Before this pain started, I was out walking every day.

Now I'm in almost constant pain, can hardly move, and am finding it hard to sleep at night. I know they're busy, dealing with this virus and everything but the numbers are going down, so surely he could spare me some attention?

I feel worse now than I did before seeing a doctor to try to get 'better'!



It is unfortunate when one patient has to overhear a telephone conversation between a doctor and another patient - that does sound frustrating. And you are in pain and struggling to sleep, which must in itself be impacting you.

But remember this isn't all the doctor's fault. These are very difficult times for GP practices, and most doctors are under tremendous pressure to cope. Even in non-Covid times, they have to deal with a demanding workload. Obviously, some cope better than others, but please remember they are only human.

I don't know what caused the doctor to be so off-hand with you; perhaps the call was a difficult one, or he was having a bad day, or perhaps that's just his normal manner! Nonetheless, you do deserve to feel you've had a proper conversation about your symptoms - so make another appointment. You don't necessarily have to see the same doctor - you could ask to see a different one if you think that would help.

Don't leave the surgery until you've fully explained your problem and got a satisfactory reply - the doctor may still not have answers for you, but should be able to make sensible suggestions. 'Diet and exercise' might indeed be helpful - but you at least need advice on what diet and what exercise that is, as the wrong ones could make things worse.

If they do give you advice and your pain doesn't improve after following it, don't give up. Ask to speak to them - or an alternative doctor - again. Yes, they're busy right now, and probably can't cope with trivial matters that could be easily self-managed, but constant pain does not fall into that category. You need medical help and advice, and you shouldn't be made to feel guilty for asking for it.


I am 23 and have only ever had two serious boyfriends.

I've never slept round, but I think I must have AIDS. It's the only reason I can think of the for fact I've been feeling under the weather for ages.

In fact, I can't remember any time over the past eight months when I haven't had a cold, an infection or the flu.

I am terrified of going to see a doctor because I'm afraid of what he will say.

I'm not in a relationship at the moment and my GP is an old-fashioned family doctor who is a friend of my parents, so I'm worried he'll say something to them. I feel so frightened; what should I do?

A. N.


I know you're frightened, but if there is any chance that you have contracted HIV, you really should get tested as soon as possible. It is sensible for everybody who is sexually active to take control of managing their sexual health, which can include screening for sexually-transmitted infections, which may include HIV. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. It's also a good idea to be clued up about safe sex and contraception.

However, please note that I am saying HIV here, not AIDS. This is because you cannot just catch AIDS. It is the HIV virus that people may catch - and this can develop into AIDS if left untreated, although this would usually take many years to happen. These days, it is also preventable, as HIV can be very successfully managed with medication. This medication can also prevent it being passed on between sexual partners, and people can live healthy, full lives with HIV. I am saying this simply because it's useful for all of us to be well informed of these things.

You don't have to go through your GP for a HIV test, as you can go to a specialist clinic. Search the NHS website or Google to find a local sexual health clinic (although, please do be assured that your GP is bound by patient confidentiality rules). They will also be able to provide advice and information around safe sex and contraception.

Whilst we can all feel anxious about these things, please do bear in mind that the symptoms you describe could be caused by a wide range of things. There could be an underlying medical cause that needs to be looked at, but there's also a high chance you might just be run down from what's been an incredibly stressful year for everyone, or perhaps it's linked to a nutritional deficiency, or depression and anxiety. These are all very common things which can have a physical impact on us.

But speculating often just makes us more anxious - so perhaps it would be a good idea to speak to your GP anyway. You can request a different one if you don't want your usual family doctor. Tell them about how run down you've been, and that it's worrying you. They are the experts and will be able to decide whether any other tests or investigations are needed, and hopefully put your mind at rest.


My ex-husband is a heavy smoker. That's his choice and he can't smoke himself to death fast enough, as far as I am concerned. What makes me angry though is that he smokes when our eight-year-old son visits him. He's even told my son not to tell me about it, which is ridiculous because when my son comes home, his clothes stink of cigarettes!

My son has had a string of bronchial problems and chest infections over the last year, and my husband's behaviour is just plain stupid. I am so angry that I am thinking of contacting social services again or a solicitor, but am I overreacting?

L. W.


I don't think you are wrong to feel angry, as the risks associated with passive smoking are well known and very real. In view of your son's ill health, I think you are right to be concerned, but it may be a little premature to involve outside agencies, at least until you've spoken properly to your ex-husband first.

Clearly the relationship between the two of you isn't a good one, but please try not to be aggressive when you talk to him. Calmly explain that, in view of his health problems, you feel he is putting his son's health at risk by smoking around him.

Stress that you are not asking him to give up smoking; just not to do it in enclosed environments when his son visits. Hopefully, this should resolve the problem, but if your ex-husband continues to smoke around your son, then perhaps you should consider talking to your solicitor.

It is unfair of him to put his son in the awkward position of having to keep secrets from you, his mother, and you might like to make this point as well.

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.