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This was quite embarrassing…

In nursing school, almost all of our clinicals at hospital started early in the morning. One rotation was on a med/surg unit and started at 7am.

Our professor told us time and time again that we absolutely had to eat a good breakfast before clinical because who knew when we’d be able to get a break once we got out on the floor? Then she’d always say, “I don’t want any of my students fainting during clinical!” (Like it was some sort of contest amongst the profs :-)

I don’t know about you, but awakening after a few fitful hours of sleep not only isn’t conducive to hunger, the thought of food actually repulses me. Clinicals were always very stressful and involved quite intense preparation the night before. No one ever got a good night’s rest. Plus, you’d always worry about the alarm not going off and being late. Skipping clinical is not like skipping class… if you don’t show up, you’re in deep shit. Even calling in sick is highly discouraged.

Anyway, I had a typical night-before-clinical with 4 1/2 hours of what really can’t pass for actual sleep, woke up around 5:30am and literally forced myself to eat a bowl of cereal. Got to clinical, everything was going as expected. We were usually assigned 1-2 patients that we had to completely care for, but every now & then the floor RN’s would pull us into a different room to show us something nifty.

At some point, a nurse grabbed me and said she had something interesting for me to see. We went into a patient’s room to do a very complex abdominal incision dressing change. Turns out the patient was actually an RN herself. Anyway, she started doing this dressing change, and everyone had to wear face masks to prevent any chance of this wound becoming infected. It looked like it would be painful, but the patient wasn’t grimacing and actually participated in teaching me about what was going on.

It can be difficult to breathe through a mask, especially if you aren’t used to it. I personally don’t know how O.R. people can stand it, because it doesn’t take long for me to feel stifled. It’s not that I can’t get my breath; I can breathe fine… it’s just that there’s this silly mask over my face and it’s uncomfy and hot. So I was standing at the side of the bed, not wanting to move lest I screw something up. There were a bunch of supplies around, some needing to stay sterile, so I was being quite stationary as I concentrated on breathing (and the dressing change, of course :-).

The whole thing was fascinating, but after about 5 minutes, I started to feel very restless. The TV in the room was on, so I glanced up at it.

The next thing I remember seeing is the ceiling and then a very concerned nurse looking over me. I was really disoriented (why the hell am I looking at the ceiling? Never mind that… why does my head hurt?). Then it dawned on me… I fainted! I laid there for a few seconds trying to figure out what had happened and then sat up to see my professor running into the room.

All I could think of to say at that point was, “Mrs. C., I swear I ate breakfast this morning!” She wasn’t amused :-) I had a nice little bump on my head, and I learned that when you hit your head, you really do see stars!

I discovered later that it wasn’t the mask that caused me to faint. It was my statuesque-ness. My knees were locked straight by the fear that I’d move the wrong way and disturb something; therefore, there was no muscle contracture in my legs to push the blood up to the rest of me. (Even people trying to stand perfectly still will contract their leg muscles to keep themselves balanced. I was leaning against a bed siderail and didn’t need balance.) Consequently, blood pooled in my legs. My brain was a bit upset by this and thus decided that if my fool self couldn’t keep the circulation goin’ north, it’d do it for me by laying me out flat.

I believe karma/fate/whatever was with me that day… My next rotation was in the operating room. Had I not learned to keep my knees unlocked and my legs moving just a little bit while trying to stay as still as possible, I can’t imagine the damage I would have done fainting in there.

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Wow! It was fascinating to read what it is like to actually faint. I’ve always wondered what it would be like. Just about my only knowlege of fainting is from Gilligan’s Island.

It’s nice to know that my habit of relentless fidgeting comes in handy sometimes.

I had no idea that you actually had to move in order for your blood to circulate properly…
Do you just need to flex the muscles, or is there more to it?

It’s all gravity’s fault, really. :-)
Your heart is an awesome pump, but it can really only do so much. When you are standing or walking,
it is the skeletal muscles in your legs that squeeze the veins to help return blood back to the heart.

You may have heard of airline passengers being at increased risk for blood clots.. the hours they spend
sitting still makes the blood pool in their legs and sort of start to coagulate there… then they get off the
plane, start moving around, and the clot gets dislodged, usually to find a home in the lung. That can be fatal.
If you can’t get up and move around, you should always at least flex your leg muscles frequently.

I think I even recently read a story about a guy who was at his computer so much that he also developed a blood
clot that travelled to his lungs.

And when we have patients who have just had surgery, or will be on bedrest for at least a few days, we always
put either really tight hose on their legs, or “squeezy boots” … these things that velcro around the leg, are attached
to a machine and deflate/inflate, thereby squeezing the blood from the legs.

Interesting story about the nurse fainting and the reason.
I am looking for a reason my right leg has limited range of motion. When I bend my leg beyond 15 deg. it is very painful. Orthaepatic?
surgent? examined me, but could not find any place around the knee that was painful when poked
or squezed. I thought maybe it is contracture of tendons at back of leg. He suggested heat and physical threpy?. Xray did not reveal anything
of interest.

I came SO close to doing that while observing in the OR during my nurses training. And the Dr. was being so nice as she’d delivered a baby of mine and was really showing me everthing and talking me through the surgery. I had to leave and it was so emberassing.

So this is what I have to look forward to. I can’t wait. *wink* We just finished our “Fundamentals” clinical rotation and had an 8 hour shift, but I was still up at 5 every morning because it’s an hour commute to the hospital. Mmmmm. 12 hours days. And I HATE breakfast.

What state are you in and what program?

Also why during military drills you’re not supposed to lock your legs, can cut off circulation. Happens a lot during inspections, people will randomly drop in the middle of the floor. It’s kind of entertaining.

For some reason, eating seems to help. I am in nursing school, and at night I work in the ER as a tech. I am always poking my nose into any procedure I can, and I had the opportunity to help a doc insert a chest tube. I decided to study during my dinner break instead of eating, and I too passed out… in front of the patient, the nurses, and the doc.

I am just writing up one of my last three nursing journals I will ever have to do, less I go to grad school…Even then I do not thing that i will have to do the malarky. There are three clinical instructors this go round and I go the top bitch. She is a big ole Baptist lady who is all nice and cheerleader on minute and the spawn of satan the next. I got sent off the floor on tuesday for reporting an incorrect lab value I did not remember explicitly from the chart. I will not get intimidated again..Oh well I enjoyed reading your post it brought back some happy memmories of school…Be well!

I have had the same experience during my clinical rotations, thinking I was the only one. Any suggestions for overcoming these fainting spells?

great article btw!

I loved your story. Wasn’t nursing school great. It’s a wonder anyone survives with any sanity left. My favorite nursing story was a day of firsts. I was 19, my first time away from home. The first day in clinical, the first time to wear the student uniform, the first time on our rotation ward at the local County Hospital. We nervously gathered in the hospital lobby. The instructor arrived, led us to the elevators, the doors opened, we went in with knees trembling. The instructor punched #6, the elevator ascended and stopped. The doors opened and we went out as a group into chaos. A nude man was screeming and yelling and climbing over his siderails. Several members of the staff were running his direction, shouting. All of us automatically turned around, as a group, to get back on the elevator – but the doors had closed. I thought, “Oh no,what did I get myself into?”
I happily survived nursing school and went on to a rewarding career.

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  • profileI am Gina. I have been a nurse for 15 years, first in med/surg, then CVICU, inpatient dialysis, CCU and now hospice. This blog is about my experiences as a nurse, and the experiences of others in the healthcare system - patients, nurses, doctors, paramedics. We all have stories!

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