My heart sank as the needle pierced my finger
Posted on 17 August 2012 by Susanna Mills
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