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.