The Blood Factor

This is just a curiosity question. Remember the movie “Gross Anatomy” where the med student throws up in the lab? I have this fear of being in the lab and throwing up all over the place and embarrassing myself. I don’t have a problem with seeing dead bodies (as I have seen them before); have a friend who works in a university and got to see several there and the sight of blood or general injuries doesn’t bother me either so I think I will be okay, but one time when I saw the sequel to silence of the lambs when Anthony Hopkins slices out a piece of the guy’s brain while he’s still alive and begins cooking it on his stove, I got so queazy I had to leave the movie theatre to get my composure … ha ha (that was several years ago.) Is it just me or does someone else out there wonder also? and does anybody know of any ways to increase your tolerance level to avoid this and desensitize? Thanks.

Well, I don’t have any problem seeing anyone else’s blood, but ironically a little bit of my own. I remember about 10 years ago, I finally decided to donate blood…well 3/4 of the way into it, I started feeling very lightheaded and had to be put in the trendelberg position. Well, a few years after that when I tried to give blood again, that memory of being lightheaded came over me so quickly, I had to back out.

I think your tolerance will be built as you find yourself working more and more in this environment.

That is funny because I am the same way. I can touch anything with gloves on comfortably. I really hate seeing my own blood. It just gives me an uneasy feeling.

To reply to the person that posted, I think that you will be okay. You just need to think clinically, you have to overcome those things…

Actually, I never hated seeing my own blood…whenever I had to go for blood tests, I would actually watch…but it is the memory of how lightheaded I felt that keeps coming back to me.

Hrm, I’ve never had a problem seeing blood - anyone elses or my own. I actually prefer to watch my own blood draws.

But I agree that getting over that queesy feeling is something that will just take time and as stacydr said, think of it clinically - rather than as a silence of the lambs movie. Its out of context that way. It’s gruesome so of course it wont sit well with you.

The queasiness factor is a concern I have considered, as I used to be rather squeamish about bodies, blood, traumatic injuries, etc. when I was in my early 20s. It was really a concern then. Now, however, the concern has dropped off drastically primarily due to exposure to injuries and blood, etc. over the years. After you’ve had kids (who can be pretty gross) and dealt with on-the-job injuries and just life in general, I think it becomes easier and you can see blood/trauma more objectively. Remember that those horror movies are meant to, well, horrify you. If someone really vivisected someone alive as in those movies, it would be horrifying and it should make you sick. As physicians, however, we’ll be trying to stop pain and suffering, not to cause it or look on helplessly.

That’s not to say you need to wait until you’re in your late 30s+ to become acclimated to “blood and guts”. I think when you’re thrust into that situation in gross anatomy class you’ll learn to adapt quickly. In regular life it may take years, but in med school it’s a sort of immersion learning. My grandmother is a nurse and she says she was really grossed out and scared by a lot of big injuries as a newbie. Early on, when someone came in with a GSW, she passed out in front of the docs and her head nurse! But they just helped her up, talked to her about it, and moved on. She learned, became more used to blood, and it didn’t happen again. You’ll be fine. If medicine is what you want, put your mind to it and set aside your worries about the blood.

Haha, I can see how such an aversion might be a problem! But realistically, the difference I see between traumatic, bloody injuries and someone sauteeing brains is the context - the former, is a real medical injury that you have studied and will be able to fix, and the latter is just a gratuitous attempt at shock value by perverting social mores. You said it yourself - you’ve never been sickened by blood or dead bodies, so why should it arise as a problem in a professional setting?

Personally, I have always been fascinated by the biology of blood and flesh, so I often feel calmer when I have stitches and minor surgeries if I can actually look and understand the process. It makes me feel more engaged intellectually, and less a passive victim. Now, I’m not sure I’d feel the same if the doc approached wearing a suit made of human skin, but I’m assuming that’s not likely to arise in medical practice.

My recommendation would be to start exposing yourself to those conditions that freak you out - if it’s burns, read burn journals with lots of images. If it’s dealing with smelly GI issues, volunteer with people with colostomies (worked for me). You’ll learn to focus more on the people, the medical condition, than the unpleasant images and smells. I actually don’t like watching the medical reality shows, because they seem more sensational and less educational, and that makes me kind of queasy.

jlr18 makes a good point about exposure. In psychology it’s called “gradual exposure therapy” and it works by exposing the person first to thoughts of the phobia, then images, then “safe” exposures, then the in situ exposure so as to become acclimated to a phobia. I’m oversimplifying a bit, but you can check it out online or with your doc/therapist if you wish. Your situation may not be a clinical one, but I’ve found gradual exposure therapy to work for sub-clinical situations as well.