What is your tolerance for blood and seeing gore? Do you easily faint or vomit when you look at one?
Imagine what surgeons see during operations. They slice open a patient, see his blood gush within the wound, and handle body parts and organs.
Surgeons also prepare for the worst while they respond to emergencies and trauma cases. They may encounter patients with deep lacerations, abscesses filled with disgusting pus, broken bones, punctured eyes, and infections.
Worse, surgeons treat decapitations, crash victims, and patients with extensive third-degree burns.
You might be curious, how do surgeons endure and deal with gore?
As they progressed in medical school, some aspiring physicians found it gross and disgusting to handle gore depending on their experiences, personalities, and fears.
But over time, they become resistant and tough since their future career rests on handling blood and wounds.
In their first year in medical school, the students primarily performed clinical exercises. The students attended pathology and anatomy lessons where they met the different structures and organs of the human body.
First-year medical students also practised dealing with patients during group discussions and taped interviews. They rehearse with their classmates to develop empathy with their future patients.
Their second year will finally involve human corpses and gore. Medical students at this level explore detailed human anatomy with actual cadavers.
Here, they will dissect the corpses and the organs inside. Students will also tear apart the corpses’ necks, hands, and muscles to understand human anatomy while practising with incision tools and instruments.
At this point, they will get used to seeing and handling dead bodies and body parts.
In the two years that will follow their medical education, the students will conduct clinical rotations in hospitals and clinics.
In their third and fourth years (even in their internship and residency after they graduate), they will meet actual patients. At the same time, they will handle real injuries, diseases, and infections.
By this time, they can already control their gag reflex and deal with blood, wounds, and disgusting illnesses.
The tolerance of surgeons also increases as they practice in the field. They may learn to deal with gore in different settings like working in morgues, forensic laboratories, paramedics, military service, or veterinary clinics.
Getting used to gore during years of medical education is a natural process for surgeons.
Let’s visualize a case that a trauma surgeon might need to face in an emergency room.
During a surgeon’s New Year’s Eve shift, a twelve-year-old boy is rushed into the hospital by his horrified parents. The boy’s shirt is stained with blood as he cried in excruciating pain.
The surgeon meets the boy and his parents to see his right hand torn by an accidental firecracker explosion. The boy’s palm is blown open, and none of his fingers remained.
Given that surgeons are used to seeing gore, disgust is the last thing in his mind. The surgeon’s character and principles will guide him in the following moments.
The surgeon empathizes with the boy, remembering that he bears the responsibility to treat the patient during this desperate time in his life. The patient’s future lies beyond this “gore”—his life hangs on the balance.
Fainting, then, is not an option. Instead, the surgeon will analyze the injury using his training and knowledge. Disregarding any feeling of disgust, the surgeon proceeds to compartmentalize (divide the issue into sections).
Then, he assesses which parts can still be saved and cleans the wound surgically. Finally, he fulfils his duty to the patient with care and excellence.
By remaining compassionate, empathetic, and alert, the trauma surgeon in our example successfully saved the boy’s injured hand from further damage and harm.
Whether the surgical patient is only an appendicitis patient or a person who got squished under the wheels of a truck, feeling disgusted by gore has no room in the committed minds of surgeons.
Seeing the latter case may leave us with trauma. Some may even lose consciousness, feel dizzy, or vomit. Surgeons feel dreadful too. Such severe cases often give them emotional scars. But they cannot allow anything else to hinder them from saving lives in those critical moments.
Many surgeons responding on online forums about gore say that they no longer notice the “disgusting” scene of the accident. After all, for them, the “gore” is just a complex injury to be treated immediately to help the patient recover.
Instead, they focus on the job at hand. Surgeons are preoccupied with fulfilling their protocols, conducting surveys, and treating the patient in the best way they can.
Upon seeing the extent of the patient’s injuries, many factors cross the surgeon’s mind:
- Am I qualified to operate on this case?
- What kind of tests and investigations should I perform?
- Can this hospital facilitate the surgery required? Is hospital transfer necessary, and is it space?
- How long will it take for the injury to deteriorate beyond repair?
- How will I explain the injuries and the treatment to the patient and his family?
These concerns run within a surgeon’s mind. These serve as a fitting distraction from the gore that may disturb them.
But surgeons are people too. Despite their training, experience, and strong tolerance to perform surgeries, they may still struggle in dealing with gore at times.
This reality is also a challenge for some medical students and surgical trainees who still try to fight their feelings of fear and disgust.
Surgeons have strategies to combat this weakness and conduct excellent surgeries:
Surgeons can prepare for operations by eating foods with a high sodium count. The Cleveland Clinic says that salt can help avoid fainting. It also increases the volume of blood and prevents the surgeon’s blood pressure from dropping.
They do not consume a large meal before operations since this can also increase their likelihood of fainting. Surgeons stay hydrated enough as well.
To prevent fainting from seeing blood and gore, surgeons may also perform the applied tension technique. As they tense their muscles, surgeons can increase their blood pressure and brain blood flow, staving off fainting.