I love to cut. Just ask any of our nurses. I'm a closet surgeon in a family doc's body. I might have even done a surgery residency, if I could have stomached the idea of spending five years with other surgeons! Just kidding. Sort of. Anway, I didn't. Instead, I satisfy my surgical urges with moles and cysts, happy to have earned the reputation of "lumps and bumps doc" in our clinic.
I don't mind the sight of blood. Gooey pus and fatty globs don't gross me out. I can dig out slimy subcutaneous masses or squeeze oozing bodily fluids without missing a beat. As long as I'm wielding the knife, I'm happy and upright.
But make me watch someone getting cut upon or sewed up, especially if they're in pain, and I'm a goner. I can't take it. I get vaso-vagal (read "dizzy") and have to go put my head between my knees. Or, better yet, take a nap. It's just too much.
The first time this happened, I wasn't even in medical school yet, and it made me doubt my potential for success as a doctor. I was watching my father sew up a drunk. Dad was working on the Navajo reservation at the time. His training was in Internal Medicine, but when you're hundreds of miles from the nearest city, you do it all. In fact, the first delivery I ever watched was done by Dad, but that's another story. At any rate, this time he was being an ER doc. The patient was man who had gotten drunk and been in a fight. He had a full thickness, curving laceration across his cheek just under his left eye. The guy was still drunk in fact, too drunk to think straight or hold still. Dad tried to give him a local anesthetic, but I'm not sure how much made it into the guy's face. What can you do. The idiot was trying to get up off the table and stagger back into the fight, but he really needed that cut sewed up. So Dad went for it.
Hindsight has toughened my memory, but at the time I thought all the moaning and thrashing was due to terrible pain from the cut and the stitches. The poor guy's head was rolling back and forth, blood was flying, his eyes were whites-only. "Unnhhhnhhh! Owww! Nnnnnngggggg!" Dad was chasing the wound back and forth with the suture needle, throwing a stitch in whenever the patient stopped tossing for two seconds. As soon as the needle made contact, "Aauugghhnghh!" he was off again.
I felt the heat rise to my face and the bile to my throat. Oh no. Was I going to faint, for crying out loud? Me, a future physician? Yep, I was definitely going to hit the deck if I didn't get out of there quick. Not wanting to distract my father from his near-impossible task, I slipped into the corridor and out the back door of the hospital. There I squatted against the brick wall in the sun, head between my knees, waiting for the world to upright itself and wondering how I was ever going to make it through med school.
Needless to say, I did make it. So did the drunk. He left the clinic with his face in one piece, thanks to Dad's persistence. I've seen worse since then, and had to leave the room a few more times too, (like during that gall bladder surgery when I was 8 1/2 months pregnant when I almost puked into the wound) but fortunately, along the way, I made the discovery that doing the procedures instead of watching was my ticket to consciousness.
So don't ask me to assist or observe. Just hand me the scalpel and move over.