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My heart sank as the needle pierced my finger

The doors banged open and the patient was rushed in on a stretcher. The paramedics reeled off his vital signs, the team withdrew, and the surgical emergency registrar and I were left facing one another over the patient.

It was clear the situation was more serious than another routine incision and drainage: the patient was cold, sweating profusely, and pale as the hospital sheets. I’d thought that now, post-medical school finals, I’d be raring to go in an emergency. But as it turned out, I was terrified.

‘We need access now,’ the registrar barked. ‘Take all the bloods, including a group and save – he’ll be going to theatre.’

The patient let out a groan, and promptly vomited over his pillow.

Panic rising, I gathered my equipment and trembling, fastened the tourniquet around his bicep. But by now the patient was beginning to writhe and groan louder, intermittently flailing his arms, and then vomiting – this time over the registrar’s arm.

She cursed under her breath, and left the cubicle, wrenching the curtain angrily to one side.

I tried to restrain the patient’s jerking limb, and searched desperately for a glimmer of blue. I could do with spotting the houseman’s friendship now. My clammy hands tapped and slapped, but found no reward. In desperation, I plunged in at a bulging length in the antecubital fossa, but the resulting yelp and thrashing arms confirmed my suspicion that this was no vein. And then I felt the sharp thrust of the needle piercing my own finger, and my heart sank. A needlestick – that was all I needed now.

I turned aghast, holding the offending bloodied finger in the air as the registrar returned. She took one look at me.

‘Get out - you’re no help here.’

I scuttled away to the nursing station, but the response there was no warmer. The nurse grimaced at me.

‘You’ll be needing this,’ she announced, slapping a huge incident book onto the counter, covered with tick boxes, short answer forms and multiple-choice questions.  Apparently, my assessments for starting work in the world of medicine weren’t yet over after all.

Susanna Mills now an ST1 in public health in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. At the time of the incident, she was a final-year medical student

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