Monday, February 26, 2007

There's no crying in Skills Lab!

I had my first tearful scene in a lab today. I was trying (and repeatedly failing) to draw normal saline into a tuberculin syringe with a vanishing needle. The needle doesn't actually vanish, it just pops into the body of the syringe when you push the stopper hard enough. Twice, I pushed it hard enough while I was only trying to push the saline back into the vial to remove a stubborn air bubble. The overall goal of this portion of the lab was to get 1mL of saline into a nice intradermal wheal on a hot dog. The voice in my head said - Jesus, you can't even pull 1mL of saline to inject a hot dog! How can you even think about being able to make it through this program?! And I dropped my second syringe on the tray and stumbled for the bathroom.
Please understand that although I grew up in the American South, I never have been graceful about crying. My nose gets bulbous and red, my sclera is bright red instantly, and within seconds, my whole face is covered in pink splotches of embarrassment/anger/fear. It makes me even more upset, because if i glance at someone and they know that I've been crying (and HOW could they NOT!) and they react with anything approaching pity, I know it's over and I'll full-out sob. I don't know why I've got such a strong denial instinct for crying, but it seems that even after thirty some years of experiences in which I cannot stop myself from crying, I still try.
Deep breaths in the bathroom stall. Positive self-talk. Frantically try to think of a song that will calm me. I try each of these interventions for about 18 milliseconds and am shocked that none of them work very well. I wash my hands, am shocked at the way my face swelled up like Hitch's after eating some shellfish, and square my shoulders to go back to lab.
After properly disposing of the last syringe, and noting that even in emotional crisis, one should always stop off at the sharps containers, I get a new syringe and keep my head down so that no one looks at my face.
Pa-pow. Another needle wasted.
This time, I do remember to properly dispose of my sharps and it's not just the facial reaction, it's the full-crying in the bathroom. I begin to suspect hormonal involvement. I allow a bit more time for the breathing, self-talk, and musical interventions this time. I splash some cold water and then head back to lab again.

epilogue: we had another TA come in to observe us for the final part of this lab, which was IM injections of each other. The TA and the woman I was working with both did the best thing in the world, which was look at me calmly, ask if she might do the injection on me first, and then ignore my tears. By that point, I was starting to be able to joke about it a bit, and recognize that being able to pull up saline into a syringe, while basic, may be something I need to do more than once in my life. I wonder if the fear of being stuck had an antagonistic affect as well, because by the time it was my turn, I was right as rain.

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