“How did you get over being grossed out by surgery?”
I’m asked some variation of this question at least once a week. Sometimes it’s phrased as “Aren’t you grossed out by surgery?” or “I could never do your job- I’m way too grossed out by surgery”. The topic invariably comes up when I’m in the middle of an office procedure, either asked by the patient, or by a family member sitting nearby.
Blood has never bothered me.
You know what’s interesting though? I can actually only think of a handful of times when I was grossed out by surgery. My husband, on the other hand, is completely overwhelmed by the sight of blood. He nearly fainted just watching me get my pertussis booster at the Ob’s office when I was pregnant with our son. I looked across the room and noticed he’d turned an alarming shade of gray. But he sat down quickly and was fine.
I remember another time when our Maltipoo bit my son. The scratch went all the way through the skin, and there was some blood, though not a lot. Scott was right there for moral support as I cleaned up my son’s cheek and applied stern strips. But he hid in the hallway outside the bathroom and faced the other way the whole time.
Contrast this to the time I cut my upper lip as a kid. We were throwing cans of soda in the air to shake them up. I caught one with my face instead of my hands and split my lip open. Far from being completely grossed out, I was actually fascinated by how much the cut bled.
Can you learn not to be grossed out by surgery?
So my husband and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum. But what if you’re somewhere in the middle? Can you learn to tolerate the sight of blood without feeling like you’re going to pass out? What people refer to as being squeamish- that nauseated, tunnel vision, gonna faint feeling, is actually a vaso-vagal response. Your heart rate and BP drop, causing you to faint. It’s pretty common- 12% of medical students have reported feeling this way.
Distracting yourself may work. Focusing on the task at hand or on your breathing may help. If that woozy feeling doesn’t get better, sit down and put your head between your knees before you faint. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was pregnant. I suddenly got tunnel vision while operating, and woke up on the floor still holding the bovie electrocautery in one hand. (Thank you Judy for catching me!) The physiology was the same- my blood pressure dropped, causing me to pass out. After that episode I was able to catch the symptoms before actually fainting. Taking a quick walk around usually made me feel better.
What if it doesn’t get better?
Often continuing exposure to something that grosses you out is enough. Your body stops overreacting with a physiologic response, and you no longer feel woozy at the site of blood. But don’t despair if this isn’t true for you. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be very effective. It’s basically formalized exposure therapy, and anxiety disorders and phobias respond very well to this type of therapy
And those times I was grossed out by surgery? Trust me, you don’t want to know!
Dr. Greer is a Plastic Surgeon who practices in Cleveland, OH. Her passion is helping moms regain self-confidence by getting rid of sagginess, wrinkles, and stubborn fat. Read more about her at www.greerplastics.com.