I was around 8 years old when I first saw someone faint. It left a lasting impression on me as I can clearly picture it as if it had happened yesterday. It happened in our camper with myself and my 4 other siblings seated at the table watching as Mom and Dad prepared lunch. Dad was slicing cheese and his finger got in the way. Before he could stop the bleeding he was on the floor out cold.

Fainting can be triggered by the sight of blood, vomit or the smell of stool. As I contemplated going into medicine I wondered if I would have the “stomach”. Almost every medical student will at some point in training encounter a particular procedure or biological unpleasantry that simply turns his or her stomach inside out.

My first test came in my 2nd year of medical school when our class learned how to draw blood. Of course, our first guinea pig was each other. I was secretly praying that my partner would get it with the first stick and that I would not pass out. Fortunately, my prayers were answered. As I entered into my 3rd and 4th year of school I was exposed to bloody orthopedic surgeries, draining abscesses, lumbar punctures, and fecal incontinences and fortunately made it through these experiences.

Our vagal triggers usually occur in response to something shocking, something new. For many medical students, this is a rite of passage. Fortunately, I did not have to experience that rite.

Terry Pfau DO, HMD

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