Translate This Blog

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hope For The Fainters

Y'know, if I had known that I'd get so many questions from outside of the US this week, I'd have put it up as a theme week!  Here's a question from Lauren in the UK, with a situation that is applicable regardless of your country of origin.

Sir, I am a 16 year old student based in the UK. The thing is, I have a passion to become a vet and have spent 7 months volunteering at a small animal practice. I find the surgery to be extremely interesting, and quite frankly, I love it! Only on one occasion I did actually faint, and I'm now worried that it will be of a regularity. I am just seeking your honesty, and wondering if you have any experience or advice for this? I have a fear of this holding me back from my dream! Kindest regards, Lauren

When I read this I knew that I had to answer as soon as possible because of what happened to me when I was young.  I started working for a veterinarian when I was 14, and my job was to help clean the kennels and take care of the pets in the back.  My parents didn't think I would last long, even though I had wanted to be a vet since I was nine years old.  The problem was that one of my chores at home was to clean the dog poop out of the yard, and every time I went through to do this, I would gag and almost throw up.  Yet here I was with a job that not only had me doing it, but doing it with my hands (gloved, of course)!  I quickly got over the problems I had with the idea of messing with dog and cat waste, and it stopped bothering me.

The first surgery I ever witnessed was a ferret descenting.  I was watching over the doctor's shoulder as she was closing up, and the ferret started to move slightly (different kind of anesthesia back in the early 1980s than we have nowadays).  She asked me to hold the hind legs while she finished a few stitches, and I was glad to do so.  All I could see was a little pink tissue through the open skin near the anus, and I didn't think much about it.  When she was done I walked out of the surgery room and had the most strange experience.  The floor came up to meet me!  Yes, I almost fully passed out.  But the strange thing is that it felt like the floor rose up to me rather than me falling to the floor.  I didn't stay out long, but yes, I did pass out from watching a surgery.

Over the next two years I slowly started getting used to surgeries.  When I was 17 I had my first girlfriend, and she was also interested in veterinary medicine.  I brought her in to watch my own dog being spayed. During the procedure I had to help her out of the surgery room as she was about to pass out.  I had her put her head between her legs to keep from fully collapsing.  As she was doing this, I passed out myself!  I had seen spays before without problems, and yet I passed out watching my own dog.  And in front of my girlfriend!

Over the next few years I continued to have sporadic luck with watching surgeries. I never passed out again, but I came close several other times.  I began to learn how it felt just before I would pass out:  bright lights, tunnel vision, a certain lightheadedness, etc.  As I discovered the signs, I learned how to walk away from the surgery, sit and put my head between my legs, and prevent it from going all the way to unconsciousness.  I was determined to get past this weakness and go on to be a veterinarian.

And I did.  I developed a strong interest in surgery, and am now asked for surgical advice by other vets in my multi-location practice due to my expertese.  I have seen every part of a dog or cat during surgery or during a necropsy.  Just about every day I have blood on my gloves.  And I never come close to passing out anymore.

So, Lauren, you see that I can completely relate to your situation!  And there is indeed hope for you.  It is possible to get past any queasiness and pursue your dream.  If I did it, so can you.  Best of luck!


  1. My first op at 14 was a cat femoral pinning! the noise and smell of blood and bone drilling got to me. The et had said if I felt faint to sit down and have a glass of water. I remember clinging desperately to the operating table, cold chills up my spine, and realising there was no chair and no way to get water! Somehow I managed to survive.
    I agree about the ground coming up to meet you - very weird!

    And on another note- I can do anything with animals, but if I cut myself badly enough, it is questionable whether I can get to the plasters and bandage before i try to faint! hate my own blood - cant donate it either...
    Lucky i didn't want to do human med, although I am sure I would have got over it once i became professionally interested in it all. Much happier as a vet :)

  2. You know, Fi, it's interesting you said you can't handle human blood. I will usually pass out if I have to have my own blood collected! And I simply can't handle seeing blood and injuries on humans, even if I've dealt with the same thing in pets. It's a completely mental thing.

  3. Kinda like the time he almost passed out when they were putting the epidural needle in my at the birth of our second child :)

  4. Okay, for those who didn't figure it out, Stacey is my darling wife. And yes, I almost passed out when they placed the epidural with our second child. The weird part was that with our first child it wasn't a problem.

  5. Thank you so much for this article.. I am an aspiring veterinarian and was shadowing a local vet to see what I would really be getting myself into when I attend college this fall. I was watching a puppy get spayed, and really wasn't disgusted by it at all, when all of a sudden I broke out in a cold sweat, everything went black, and I heard the vet say "she's going down..." then woke up layed out on the floor. I was so scared this was going to get in the way of achieving my dream, but this article helped me a lot and tomorrow, I will be watching a few more surgeries. I am not giving up!

  6. My name is Emily im 15 and today was the first day i went to volunteer at my local vets office to see if i would like to pursue it in collge. They were going to neuter a dog and they had to incubate him because of irregular breathing. I didnt even make it into theboperating room before i passed out. I a now scared that i wont be able to have a career in this. any help?

  7. Hi, Emily. Read my post and you'll see that there is still hope. It won't come quickly or easily, and this may not be the last time you pass out. Not everyone will be able to handle it, but most can get used to it.

  8. Today I shadowed a vet, and saw a surgery for the first time (a dog being spayed). Since I have never been queasy at the sight of blood, I did not expect to faint, but unfortunately I fainted. The vet rudely said that maybe I should "rethink my decision" to become a vet. He really offended me, but after reading online about how many current vets fainted during their first surgery, I'm not giving up on veterinary medicine. Thank you so much for this blog!

  9. Hello! I've had this problem twice. I have never come close to fainting before and had experienced broken bones that were shattered and sticking out of the skin (guinea pig) and multiple births, some that weren't so pleasant for the mother or that the baby didn't survive. With these past experiences I figured I was totally safe when it came to the operating table. I was proved wrong. My first surgery was the removal of a torn and infected dew claw and I went down. Right after that they were neutering a chihuahua and I wouldn't even risk looking directly at it (although the blood on the gauze wipes didn't bother me) in case I fainted again. Everyone there was very nice and told their own stories but I couldn't get over the fact that I'd fainted, something I never would have thought I was capable of. Last night an emergency case came in while I was taking care of some boarders and it was a dog attack. I was not affected until he was all shaved and she was opening up the puncture sights. I causally mentioned I had to return home and left before they noticed I was getting woozy and then proceeded to throw up in the parking lot. This has me so worried that I won't be able to go through with being a vet because I've never been squeamish before. How did you personally overcome this? Did you just continue to watch and faint until it started to fade?


Thank you for making a comment on my blog! Please be aware that due to spammers putting links in their comments I moderate every comment. ANY COMMENTS WITH AN EXTERNAL LINK NOT RELATED TO THE TOPIC WILL LIKELY BE DELETED AND MARKED AS SPAM. If you are someone who is posting links to increase the traffic to another website, save me and you the time and hassle and simply don't comment. To everyone else.....comment away! I really do enjoy hearing from readers!