Fainting in Theatre

I fainted at the sight of blood before I had even started my medical career.


As a high school student, I spent a day shadowing a local trauma to doctor to see if I could hack it. The very first patient who happened to come through the door was a young guy who had cut his hand doing I-can’t-even-remember-what. It was deep – no amount of love or money was going to fix this, he needed sutures. As my host was inserting the first suture… I went down like a ton of bricks. I recovered well after being helped up and fed sugary drinks, but my ego was bruised.

And then I started wondering “how the hell am I going to become a doctor if I can’t even stand the sight of a bleeding finger being poked by a sharp object?!?” People tend to judge if a medical student reacts like a corseted victorian lady when faced with carnage and scattered body parts – check out this delightfully snide piece I found on a blog called MD to be. Quelle horreur!

It seems I’ve made a decent comeback, because I am now a qualified surgeon. I’d love to claim that I’ve never been dizzy in theatre since that first episode, but that wouldn’t be true. Luckily I’ve never ended up with my face in the wound and it’s never happened while I am cutting, only whilst assisting (wonder why?!). I’ve also realized that it isn’t this major DISASTER either – I see it as an opportunity to scrub down, take a break and eat a Snickers. If it is the talk of the hospital, you must work in one fucking boring hospital.

So, how to avoid operating room syncope 101:

  • Don’t stress about the possibility of going belly-up. IT. IS. A. NON-ISSUE.
  • Eat before the procedure. And also drink. Not alcohol though, unless you want to make some malpractice attorney’s day.  If you think that you’re going to tackle this Whipple on an empty tank, you Sir are a fool. The Whipple will win: in fact it will take your land, marry your wife and make slaves of your children.
  • Operate if you can. Like I said, by some form of voodoo magic I have never fainted while piloting, only while on co-pilot duty.
  • If you are designated retractor, for heaven’s sake don’t just stand there like a statue! Move your legs, shift your weight, feign interest in the procedure.
  • If you do feel faint, SAY SO. You could ask for a chair, but you won’t use it for long. Trust me, this doesn’t go away if you sit for a bit- it is relentless. Scrub down- get your mask and gown off, they are the equivalent of a mini sauna. Sit down / lie down somewhere cool. Accept all sweet drinks passed your way by kind nurses. Remember to thank kind nurses. Ready your excuse.
  • If your idiot colleague laughs like a braying donkey and says you must be feeling faint because you’re pregnant /premenstrual / a delicate victorian flower – be sure to have a scorching sarcastic one-liner at the ready to cut him down.



Author: Scalpelista

My favourite Beatle is George Harrison My favourite Stone is Keith Richards (who else?!) My favourite Sex Pistol is Glen Matlock... no wait Steve Jones... ok, definitely Glen... and maybe Steve. I promise I operate better than I write.

2 thoughts on “Fainting in Theatre”

  1. I am in the process of writing a blog on this too! I have had about three students faint in my theatre – all with the same procedure….. removing the nail off the fingers to repair the nailbed. I keep telling them the patients are asleep, and it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t seem to stop them from looking at their own fingers and hit the deck….


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