Nov 14, 2009
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Hello! I'm Organismal/Alyssa. I'm currently a high school senior, going to Cal Poly Pomona for pre-vet. :)

I've lurked here a while, lthough i haven't posted yet. So, here goes, haha. A couple of incidents lately where i broke out into a sweat at surgery/a giant spleen sitting on a table led me to try to find an effective method of getting over this squeamishness. From what I've read, most people do tend to be a little iffy with gore, but are able to get over it. But what's the best method for this, if any?

I figure watching surgeries would be the best, but I feel like I've already bothered the vets at the clinic I volunteer at already. The vets and techs are incredibly nice and I hate having to keep other employees from their jobs by having to take care of me while I'm weirding out.
 

Whyevernot55

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I've found that it helps to think about it clinically - as soon as I start going "HOLY CRAP THAT'S A SPLEEN!" my brain goes "uh oh...wooooozy....." When I'm in surgeries I have to focus on monitoring anesthesia - counting heartrates and respiratory rates, monitoring blood pressure, etc.
 

Coquette22

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I found that there's a disconnect that happens for me. Mentally, the thing under the drape isn't an animal, it's just a bunch of organs, so surgery doesn't bother me. If that makes any sense.

I still struggle with things outside the body though. My first hit the floor moment was a stenoic nares surgery on a Pug. Flashback in IVs is known to make me light headed sometimes too, but usually only if I'm already feeling off kilter.
 

RunTheWorld

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My sophomore year I nearly passed out watching a spay surgery and again holding for a declaw (I think it was the crunch!). I totally freaked out and thought I could never be a vet! It's really just a mental thing that you'll get over by watching more and more surgeries. I think what really helped was working full time at an emergency clinic last summer. I would see a lot of blood and surgeries pass by but I'd never have to stand and watch the whole time because I'd have to go mop the floor or whatever. I think just seeing it in small amounts really often helped a lot. I also watched a lot of surgeries on youtube while standing. It's not really the same but I guess it helped. Now this year in my internship I've been able to watch every surgery with no problem, and in my animal phys class I lasted through about 4 two-hour-long rat surgeries. AND I was by far the best surgeon on the rats (suck it pre-meds!). So basically, just try to expose yourself to it as much as possible and you'll get over it.
 

PrimalMU

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I got a bit nauseous my first few surgeries, but after that I was fine. Now I'm to the point where I find preserved cadavres in my comparative vertebrate anatomy lab to be far more disgusting than watching a "gory" surgery.
 

HopefulAg

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One thing that helped me out substantially was eating something before surgery. I'd get so sick for the longest time because I was always scheduled for morning surgeries (and I don't eat breakfast). Then one day I was switched to fill for afternoon and handled it like it was nothing. Lunch (or breakfast) makes a big difference.
 
Nov 14, 2009
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Thanks a ton for all the advice!

I will definitely try watching more surgery videos--while standing up. I've been fine with every vid I've watched so far, but I've always been sitting down. Maybe it'll be harder if I'm standing up, practicing like that will hopefully help. :)

I've heard of the disassociation thing and I'm working on it. I think that's probably a big part of it, I watched a few spays/neuters the first day I was at the clinic, and I was fine was those. Thinking back now, the puppies were so small there wasn't a whole lot of extra tissue and blood, and were completely covered by the mats. But the surgery I began feeling lightheaded on, I was standing next to the dog's head and was looking back and forth between foot (surgery site) and face.

The food advice is new, too, thank you!
 
Nov 17, 2009
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I agree with PrimalMU and RunTheWorld, I think with time, you just get used to it.

I worked in necropsy for 3 years, took (and TA'd) dissection courses, and work as a preparator at a museum for a year. [So I was no stranger to "blood and guts"]. But when I watched (and smelled) my first laser surgery (that's a smell that sticks with you...), I got a little light-headed. The vet I was shadowing was just out of vet school and told me before we walked into the surgery suite that it's not uncommon to get light-headed and queasy during your first surgery. She said that she fainted during her first surgery, threw-up after the second, and was light-headed and slightly queasy during the next handful. When surgery started in vet school, she said she was fine.

While I think some other SDNers had some great advice (definitely worth trying!), I think you might feel better after time. I know I did, and so did my vet mentor. :)
 

that70sfan11

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I volunteered at an emergency room in a hospital a couple of years ago

I once was talking to an older lady that had fallen and she had cuts all over her. it wasn't even that bad, but for some reason I fainted -- and I had never fainted before in my life!!

the tech told me that when I watch things that might make me queasy in the future, to slightly bend my knees. apparently locking your knees makes you more prone to faint. also, to do lots of deep breathing. preferably in through the nose and out through the mouth. unless of course the smell is enough to make you faint haha

that won't help you get over squeamishness necessarily, but it will hopefully help you if you are thinking you might faint
 
Feb 19, 2010
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Go easy on the coffee/caffeine! Remember to breathe deeply, and if you need to, take a couple seconds/minutes to focus on something in the distance (a car sickness trick, but it worked for me).

I turned pale while watching my first spay, and not during the gory stuff but as they were closing up! And this was AFTER I had spent a couple years performing surgeries on mice and working with cadavers. I think I was nervous about impressing the vets on my first day so I got little sleep, skipped breakfast, but drank a bunch of coffee (stupid).

Don't let it discourage you! You'll get used to it! It doesn't even remotely bother me now, but then again my vet and I are pretty chatty (don't worry, we still pay attention!!) during surgeries so maybe some friendly conversation meanwhile is a good way to become accustomed to the sight? Although I could see some vets getting irritated if you distract them...
 

Myotis

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As others have said, disassociating is really helpful, but for me, that helps more with the euthanasia aspect. For watching surgeries, I've actually never really had a problem (though I get squeamish at just the thought of watching a person get a shot hahaha) but I've heard watching necropsies can be helpful. One tech told me that after watching a necropsy on an animal that had been dead for a while made it a lot easier during surgery because the necropsy was so much smellier and there were all sorts of internal and external parasites on and in the animal that watching surgery became easy in comparison.
 

Poochlover11

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I agree with what others are saying. It really does get easier with time and repeatedly seeing surgeries.

Food before surgery definately helps. I usually wear layers because when I get nauseous I tend to get warm too. It also helps to ask questions and get into the surgery, takes your mind off the gore.

It seems like there was another thread very similar to this, but I couldn't find it-maybe someone else can post it.

Good luck, and it really does get easier with time :)
 
Nov 14, 2009
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So I guess the best would be to just watch the real thing a bunch. :) I'll have to find a place where I can really shadow a vet. (Hopefully one who won't mind if I wooze out a bit, heheh.)

In the meantime I suppose I will watch some necropsies standing up. :p

Poochlover; I did search for related threads and I found a lot of "I am squeamish will I get over it" threads, but none asking for specific techniques. If there's another one that'd be great, I'm looking for all the advice I can get ;)
 

sunshinevet

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Whatever you do, when you DO start feeling woozy - leave the room!!! Staying and staring isnt going to make you feel better, and you won't endear yourself to the vets and nurses by fainting in the surgery. I mean, I will feel bad if you go off and faint elsewhere - but if you've been feeling woozy, think you'll just suck it up and faint in the middle of a sugery where everyone needs to be concentrating on the animal, I'll be slightly annoyed. So try to be considerate in your fainting :laugh:

ETA: OBVIOUSLY if you suddenly faint, I don't have a problem. But don't take the attitude of "I'll just tough it out". Chances are you won't!


And I would have confidence, that with experience, this problem will fade with time. Maybe get some really gross non-surgical cases (eg. manky abscesses when they present, flyblown animals etc). You'll never think surgery is gross again!!! (Except for pyometra. Gross at anytime!)
 

DVMDream

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I am going to have to agree with all of the above advice. Continuously watcing and observing is what will eventually get you over the squeamish feeling. I have been lucky in that surgeries do not bother me at all; I actually find them interesting. But, the one thing that does get to me is when the vet is cleaning out a wound and has to use a scapel blade to scrape off the top layer of tissue. For some reason that gets to me, but I am getting over it. I just started to volunteer myself to help out with those cases intentionally so that I could get over the queasy feeling and it is basically gone now. So, definitely keep watching. Keep food in your stomach. Bring a banana with you so if you start to feel faint...eat it..they work wonders. And never lock your knees if you are feeling faint!



And I would have confidence, that with experience, this problem will fade with time. Maybe get some really gross non-surgical cases (eg. manky abscesses when they present, flyblown animals etc). You'll never think surgery is gross again!!! (Except for pyometra. Gross at anytime!)
I like pyo surgeries...although I really wish we never have to do them because they are so easily preventable.

Funny pyo story: We had a high school student who had come in for observing when a dog with pyo came in. She was dribbling a little bit of blood...nothing bad at all...did not even smell that bad compared to most pyos. I suddenly look up at the girl and she was whiter than the walls...she was just standing there staring not saying anything. Luckily we were able to get her to sit down and she never fainted, but the next thing that came in we made her sit down from the start. (Dog with maggots in a massive hot spot into its abdominal cavity). She actually did better with that than the pyo dog. :confused: Anyway, if you are feeling faint at all just find a place to sit down. It is much better to take a 5-10 minute time out than to crash to the floor. ;)
 
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Yeah, I've also been lucky enough to not be squeamish. I think most of that stuff is pretty cool, actually! I always find it fun when we do lipoma removals (not too often, but did one Friday), because the doctor peels them out by her hands and then we get to cut through them to make sure there are no masses inside of them. :) And it may be sick, but we did a leg amp on a cat a few years ago, and the tech and I were hungry during the surgery. That leg had some nice meat on it and it looked like chicken. (I'd never eat cat, but it looked good at the time and a drape hides the fact that it was a cat.)

Only gross out moments for me involve maggots. Since we can't use ether anymore and bleach doesn't kill them, it's absolutely disgusting and they won't die. My last experience with maggots was when we cleaned them out of a cat with an abscess that had been open for too long. ::shudders::

I don't know that I could ever get used to that, or the horrifying smell that goes with it.
 
Nov 14, 2009
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I never thought I'd have a problem, haha. I used to watch Discovery Health and stuff all the time and it never bothered me, even the gory stuff. But maybe it's just easy to automatically disassociate myself from that because it's only on tv. Idk!

Definitely reading over that other thread as well.

Thank you all, you guys are great!
 

168135

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Chewing gum helps a little :p but if you're feeling the slightest bit faint, it's best to leave the room, grab a drink of water, and wait the feeling out until returning.

I saw a bone surgery. I really wanted to see the surgery, but for whatever reason, it did make me faint. I had to leave four or five times, but always returned because I really didn't want to miss out :p
 

that redhead

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The vet I worked with for a long time told me once that the first time he pulled blood, he keeled right over. Obviously its no longer a problem for him, but I think the advice that the mroe exposure you give yourself, the better it will become.

I personally am not squeamish at all except when it comes to tooth extractions. Blood, guts, mangled whatever, I could care less. I think I get into "treatment" mode and realize that if I'm passed out on the floor, this animal will not get treatment. That being said, I always avoided helping with tooth extractions if at all possible.

At the small animal clinic I worked at, the surgery room had a big window so that if you wanted, you could stand outside the room but still observe. Not sure if your place has this, but maybe it's best to ease yourself into observing surgeries. Even standing further back from the table may help you at first. Good luck!
 

purplesaurus

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Mar 5, 2010
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I used to have a HUGE problem with this, and I do mean huge.

In my junior year of high school, I started a research project at the local university in the psychology department. The lab I joined did drug abuse research on rats, so lots of surgeries and lots of injections. I couldn't be in the room while my mentor just gave injections, and I started blacking out during the first surgery I watched.

At the same time, in my biology class, we had just started cat dissections. These were also incredibly disgusting for me. I could barely stand near my lab partner while she did all the work.

My approach was to throw myself into the dissection and into surgeries and injections at the lab. I think what helped me was in actually participating, I was focusing on my task, and there was no room left in my mind to freak out about it. Getting experience actively doing surgeries might be hard for you at this point, but you could take a class (or a few) that has dissections or works with cadavers in some way.

I also second trying to look at the surgeries in a clinical light. You could try asking questions about the procedure and thinking about the implications of the procedure on the patient (was it a splenectomy you watched? you could think about what changes will happen in the animal's body and life afterwards).

These are things that helped me while I was still working on it. I always made sure I ate breakfast and lunch (our surgery days went all day), and got myself a sugary soda (I always liked Sprite for this). I drank some soda right before surgeries started, and I would step out as time allowed to take more sips. I'm usually a light breakfast eater, and I noticed a huge difference between the days when I didn't each or drink much and when I did have a substantial breakfast. Very important.

If I felt I was going to black out (for me: rushing sound in my ears and/or hot/cold sensations on my face and neck; if I waited too long, I would start getting dark spots in my vision that slowly got bigger), I stepped out of the surgery room, and preferably, I would actually step outside. Our building was well ventilated, but it felt much better outside, physically and mentally.

If it was really bad, I would excuse myself for a bit and sit down with a cold paper towel on the back of my neck and drink some soda for a while.

I did force myself to work through my squeamishness, as others on here have suggested not to, but I was able to tell the difference between just being grossed out and the physical signs that told me black out was imminent.
 

Whyevernot55

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My favorite story to tell people is about one of the first times I met my equine vet when I was in college - he had just moved to the area and started practicing, and was young and attractive. I was holding a horse while he taught one of the girls to do IV injections.
10 minutes later I woke up on the floor of the wash stall (ick) with my friend leaning over me and calling my name, and my head in someone's lap. You guessed it - young, cute vet. Most embarrassing moment of my life! He still teases me about it! 2 years later I nearly hit the floor with him while when we had to lance a huge hygroma on my mare's knee. We're talking about a 2ft trajectory of blood and pus, flushing it with saline, and injecting antibiotics. I was upright for the entire thing until the very end, but I had the presence of mind to be leaning against a wall.

It's important to know yourself and be able to ID your signs. I once passed out while scrubbed in - I hadn't had breakfast, I was wearing several layers under the gown and gloves, and I just overheated. Fortunately I was able to give the Dr a good few minutes of warning and get another tech to scrub in for me while I went and recovered. So I KNOW I have to have eaten, be hydrated, and keep cool - now I'll change so I'm just wearing a T-shirt instead of several layers, since I know I overheat easily in there. I know that I have to focus on being busy and what I'm doing instead of the gore. And as someone else said, having a conversation helps - when we get a cool surgery, typically all of us will watch and we're pretty good at cracking jokes and keeping each other occupied when things get gory.
 

twelvetigers

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Gah! I just found that thread, but saw you beat me to the punch. All my hard work wasted, lol. There has to be an easier way to find things around here then the way I've been searching.

But I def agree this is prob the best thread about nausea advice and such.
Haha. Top secret! I searched for 'nausea surgery' in only the vet forums. Worked pretty well.
 

Poochlover11

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My favorite story to tell people is about one of the first times I met my equine vet when I was in college - he had just moved to the area and started practicing, and was young and attractive. I was holding a horse while he taught one of the girls to do IV injections.
10 minutes later I woke up on the floor of the wash stall (ick) with my friend leaning over me and calling my name, and my head in someone's lap. You guessed it - young, cute vet. Most embarrassing moment of my life!

Oh my goodness, poor you! :(
 

Whyevernot55

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Oh my goodness, poor you! :(
I was pretty horrified at the time, but it turned into a great story to tell terrified freshman entering the barn program, or people who are embarrassed about passing out at gore! Luckily he has turned out to be a long-time friend, ended up hiring me during my senior year in college, and wrote me a eLOR this year. And he still teases me about it. :laugh:
 
Dec 11, 2009
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I used to have a really big problem with this too. In high school, I fainted twice watching videos of blood and injuries. After the second time, my teacher always sent me to the library when it was video day :idea:
I found that the most important thing is to know your own progression from nausea to fainting, and your most salient triggers. For me, spurty blood and eyeballs are my triggers. The turning point for me was when I discovered that the thing that made me pass out was trying really hard not to pass out after I started to panic about the grossness of the situation. Like many of the other posters said, so long as I was busy and involved I would forget to panic, and thereby never start the cycle of nausea and fainting.
What I do now is if I feel my mind starting to say "ew, that's really gross," I think to myself something clinical like "yes, that was a large hematoma". I then start pacing, or if this is not an option, counting in my head. I eventually realize that the panic has passed and I can go back to observing/assisting with no problem. For me, it's all about cutting off the cycle of panic. That said, I know I have passed the point of no return when I start to see sparkly crystals at the field of my vision. At this point, it is not a matter of if I will faint, but when. In these situations, I excuse myself and go sit on the floor to wait out the episode. Fortunately, with experience, this has not happened to me in years.
 

twelvetigers

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Also keep in mind that sometimes it just happens even if you aren't particularly grossed out. I've done fine for surgeries (given they've mostly been spays & neuters) but I felt faint one day when we were trimming the nails on this little dog and it was bleeding a bit much. Just the smell of the blood, and however I felt that day... I had to pass the dog off to the Dr and go sit down.
 

mickeyy

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Dec 9, 2009
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I totally agree with the food advice. I'm not really a squeamish person, but I noticed that I tend to get nauseous if I go to surgery hungry.... Idk.. Maybe animal insides look like meat to me...
But if I go feeling healthy with food in my circulation, I rarely have trouble.

Good luck!!
 

cowgirla

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Maybe animal insides look like meat to me...

MMM, yummy. tastes like chicken.


Heh. Just Kidding, I promise.

I'd offer advice, but I honestly have no squeamishness whatsoever. Even the nastiest pyometras I've ever seen have been more along the lines "That's awesome, look at all the brown junk..."

If anything's going to get me, it's going to be a smell. (IE, dead rotting puppy in the inflamed pus-filled uterus). Half the time, I'm thinking "Ok, I really should be grossed out by this...." and not feeling anything.
 
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Dental surgery & subq movement get me. Also bone-scraping noises and the smell of preservatives. Everything else is cool by me – spays make me hungry for Chinese food.

I find that if I eat a meal beforehand, though, I don't have to worry about it. (Dizziness, not cravings for Chinese food.)

I tend to get hypoglycemic easily if I don't eat, though, so if I forget and watch one of the above triggers, hoo boy. I hear buzzing in my ears, the backs of my eye sockets feel warm, I go pale and suddenly I'm totally sleepy. Luckily, I don't flat-out faint right away, so when it starts I just excuse myself, grab a granola bar & a glass of water and come back.

Food, ventilation & companionship will see you through, and don't be a hero if you feel faint anyway – get out and take a breather!
 

mickeyy

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Oh yea! It also helps me a lot to have a friend or someone you know with you. Usually you can either talk about other things to redirect your thoughts or talk about how disgustingly awesome it is, and you'll get used to it.
 

variegata

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If anything's going to get me, it's going to be a smell. (IE, dead rotting puppy in the inflamed pus-filled uterus). Half the time, I'm thinking "Ok, I really should be grossed out by this...." and not feeling anything.
I agree about the smells. It'll progress from "Oh, that's a gross smell" gradually to "I don't smell anything" to "I'm feeling a bit light-headed, can I pass this off." For me, it's the smell of infection, in particular (i.e. bandage changes on amputated/need to be amputated limbs).
 

ZebraFinch

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I consider myself lucky as I rarely, if ever, get lightheaded or squeamish (note exceptions below). I think part of it is that I'm so focused on what's going on that I don't think about how there's a puppy-filled uterus on the table or a rat's eye hanging out of the socket. I am also usually busy with anesthesia, so I am able to look away and see something other than the surgical field. I was told before my first surgery observation that if I did feel lightheaded, to distract myself by wiggling my toes.

That said, I am terrible with vomit and poo. Just walking through the cat kennels makes me want to gag as the smell is just terrible. I have an extremely hard time picking my own dog's poop up, which I know is terrible but it really just makes me feel like I'm going to barf! :rolleyes: Vomiting is even worse, it nearly triggers my own gag reflex. I've tried rationalizing all this to myself, as they're just normal bodily functions, but it doesn't work. If anyone knows any tricks for this, please feel free to share.
 

mickeyy

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I consider myself lucky as I rarely, if ever, get lightheaded or squeamish (note exceptions below). I think part of it is that I'm so focused on what's going on that I don't think about how there's a puppy-filled uterus on the table or a rat's eye hanging out of the socket. I am also usually busy with anesthesia, so I am able to look away and see something other than the surgical field. I was told before my first surgery observation that if I did feel lightheaded, to distract myself by wiggling my toes.

That said, I am terrible with vomit and poo. Just walking through the cat kennels makes me want to gag as the smell is just terrible. I have an extremely hard time picking my own dog's poop up, which I know is terrible but it really just makes me feel like I'm going to barf! :rolleyes: Vomiting is even worse, it nearly triggers my own gag reflex. I've tried rationalizing all this to myself, as they're just normal bodily functions, but it doesn't work. If anyone knows any tricks for this, please feel free to share.

I sometimes use Burt's Bees and rub it around my nostrils when I have a lot of kennel clean up to do. :D
But I agree... Poo and vomit are the worst!
 
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I spent 60 hours in equine/small animal surgery this past summer watching everything from amputations to c-sections, castrations, and abdominal exploratory. The only one that got me was watching my own dog have a cyst removed from his leg. Relatively minor surgery, hardly any blood or gore, but I think seeing my own dog cut open is what did it. I didn't pass out, but I blacked out (was blind and deaf, essentially) and stumbled around the parking lot like a drunkard. I survived and haven't had a problem, since. Anytime I would start to feel a little woozy, I would take very deep, slow breaths over and over. This not only helped to calm me, but remedied my tendency to hold my breath without realizing it. The other thing that helped was the fact that the operating room was kept very cool. Standing by the AC vent and having cold air blowing on me was great. My best suggestion is what many others have suggested-keep exposing yourself to the gore : )
 

Pouches Rock

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So I have never felt faint during anything to do with animals and I have participated in many different types of surgery. I have found it hard sometimes to breath normally when there is a really strong infection related smell but I take shallow breaths and I haven't had any problems.

There are two things unrelated to vet med that do make me feel faint or sick and that is baby vomit and watching someone eat fried chicken or really bloody steak. I haven't fainted yet but I have gotten woozy and I threw up one time. Unfortunately it is hard to avoid those things especially steak in Texas :).
 

that70sfan11

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yup the smell of poop is AWFUL.

the worst for me is actually the feeling of vomit ... hear me out.... as in, when you have to scoop up vomit in a paper towel. Just the texture of it for some reason is enough to make me gag. I can pick up solid poop or wipe up liquid pee all day. But picking up vomit... oh god... worst!!! :barf:

p.s. grossest thing I've done/seen? During a spay, the dog was very pregnant. The puppies in the uterus kept almost rolling off the table, so while he operated, I had to hold 3 tiny, soon-to-be-dead puppies. almost more sad than gross. esp. when you can see their noses and tails. :(
Also pretty gross, but cool gross, was draining a huge pus pocket. It was still leaking pus after 5 minutes of draining!