After my comment on MiM mail last night I got mail from a reader who wanted to know more about my experiences in passing out. I've got volumes in that category. Here is what I wrote back to her. Thanks for your e-mail. I was always a fainter. I fainted every time I got my teeth worked on - pulled, new braces, etc. It was crazy. Oh and in college when I got my belly button ring (long gone era). In med school blood draw lab, I did fine when I drew my partner's blood (first, quick and well) but when he was sweating and sticking me multiple times it was just too much and the next thing I knew I woke up on the floor in the arms of a nurse. I wasn't the only one.
I sought advice from my sister, a PA in anesthesia (physician's assistant) who is much tougher than me but had similar issues early in the morning before surgery, before I started clinicals. She learned that was when she was the most hypoglycemic and started keeping small juice packs and sugar candy in her backpack or scrub coat pocket. I emulated and never once passed out during an early surgery. I found it pretty easy since the patient's head was all draped and you only saw the one part you were working on - I could mentally separate it from the person and pretend it was arts and crafts. Which is how I got through autopsies, too.
I know a guy that got queasy and had to leave the room after watching his first pelvic exam. If I remember correctly he was the president of our class and is now a cardiologist at Duke. So it happens to the best of us.
I passed out - almost anyway - needed cold washcloth and head between legs - during the bone marrow because that is an archaic, painful as hell procedure - the patient was prone and miserable, and moaning, and I was 8 weeks pregnant, so low blood pressure already - BTW, do you know your blood pressure? I have very low, good blood pressure, and I think that is sometimes the culprit of the passing out. At the private institution I work at now, patients are sedated for marrows, thank goodness.
Gross anatomy - if you still do that these days I hear it is going by the wayside - will be a nice segue to test your waters. I might encourage you to try to volunteer, if you have time, watching a surgery or a birth or an autopsy or something during your first two years - so it is less stressful since it is not your grade. Your being a med student will gain you access to many different areas and if you do need to leave the room no one will remember in a year or two. It happens to a lot of people.
Remember even the toughest cops lose it (vomiting, etc.) during particularly nasty crime scenes. That's what got me in the crime lab the first day - all those dead bodies and blowflies. The stench and the bad karma was overwhelming. Peanut butter crackers and M&M's restored me to a normal state, and I was able to continue.
Once I had a mole removed by my family doctor, right before I started med school. I passed out. I woke up so embarrassed, especially having just excitedly told him about my new adventure. He told me a story that made me feel much better. "It's an evolutionary behavior. Soldiers that passed out on the battlefield were assumed dead, and passed over. When the battle was over they woke up and lived. You should not be ashamed." True or no, that was one of the best things I could have heard. Made me proud to faint, ha ha. And put my head in a better state around it.