Front line

Sometimes, after a day spent touching so many other people’s bodies, I want to keep washing my hands, as if one time, five times isn’t enough, as if the grime and germs and sweat will come off into my dinner. And then, later, I realise it probably will, but stop caring.

I love A&E. The controlled chaos of it, the camaraderie, and the way it has steadily demystified, like a crime novel solved by the new medical version of myself.


2 thoughts on “Front line

  1. Hi- I just found your blog. I’m a pre-med student, currently undergoing the arduous process of applying to medical school. I have a needle phobia too. I faint nearly every time I have to have blood drawn, I fainted when shadowing my dentist in high school, and nearly fainted when shadowing cataract surgery. Yeah. I need your help. I’d love to nip this in the bud before matriculating (hopefully next year). What kind of advice do you have for me? I’ve done hypnotherapy, don’t judge, which did absolutely nothing for me. Please help. I’m terrified of having to drop out of med school or something.

    • Hi Carly. First of all, thanks very much for writing. I think you’re very brave for applying to med school anyway despite your needle phobia – many people would consider it a reason not to even bother trying, and that seems a real shame. I’m sure this is something you’ll be able to sort out, as I did. I did a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) before starting medical school, and although I wasn’t sure how much it helped at the time, looking back I really think it did. It helped me to think about and identify some of the triggers for my becoming faint, and then to try and stop the process when it did start to happen – and that way I began to be able to break the cycle of ‘needle…oh god I’m going to faint…oh I feel faint…I’ve fainted…now I’m even more afraid of needles’. The therapist gave me some useful physical techniques to reduce the feeling of faintness and this made me feel more in control, and I think gradually that link between needles and fainting became weaker. So I’d recommend this kind of therapy in particular, if you can find it. I was able to get this just through my normal doctor, who referred me.

      I guess the other thing is that I’ve become much more used to being around needles through being at med school and in hospitals, so these days they’re more commonplace and less a thing to be frightened of. And that’s why I think it’s really good that you’re trying to keep going with your plans for med school, because by doing it you’ll face your fears rather than running away from them. The way I used to think of it was that it was a stupid cycle my brain had got into that I couldn’t allow to prevent me from doing something as cool as becoming a doctor – it wasn’t important enough for me to let it matter that much. Hopefully you can learn to treat it something like that.

      That’s not to say I don’t still feel faint sometimes – I became very faint in an operating theatre recently, and occasionally feel faint on the wards when taking blood from a patient or something. I think the difference now is that I know how to deal with it. Practical advice would be to always make sure you’ve eaten a good breakfast if you think you might be dealing with needles that morning, keep plenty of water with you, and just walk away for a bit and sit down if you feel bad. On my very first day of learning to take blood, in my first year, we were supposed to be taking blood from each other but I just said I wasn’t happy with that, and my colleagues were happy not to take blood from me.

      You won’t be the only one. I’ve come across many many med students, doctors and nurses who sometimes faint in hospitals but still do the job really well. And people will be very supportive. Good luck. Hope this helps!

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