My first gross anatomy lab went better than expected. Like a shiny new highlighter, I was bright and ready to be pulled in every which direction to get the job done. I even had a blast purchasing my first pair of lab scrubs beforehand with one of my classmates, and to both of our humours, not a single pair seemed to be small enough to fit me. During the lab, I was precise and accurate with my incisions, and even correctly identified the major back muscles. It was a dream, and I was relieved my lab could go so well. All of my anxieties seemed to be for nothing.
And then the brachial plexus happened. I mean, the brachial plexus lab happened. Like before, I was dressed, well studied, and ready to go. Scrubs - check; lab coat - check; determination face - check. I walked into the lab feeling competent and prepared, after all, I knew the nerve roots, trunks, etc. There was no way this could wrong.
Correction - it did go wrong. Remember my determination face? Well, that same face was held high until it performed a 45 degree rotation and saw the uncovered arm of a cadaver. My brain could barely handle this. I knew that this was precisely the job I signed up to do. If I were to finish medical school, I would have to work with cadavers, end of story. It just had to work. But for some reason, bright images of stars flashed in front of me and the room started to blur. It was as if I forgot who I was and, unfortunately, how to stand on both feet. Things were not going as planned.
A voice in my head said, get a grip!! And I looked around me and realized that, yes, I was still standing but I was standing in a room that I needed to get out of. I left to get a drink of water, and hoped that I would feel better when I came back.
I did feel better, and though I never actually fainted, I was petrified in my first semester that it would happen. In fact, I knew it was going to happen. It became less and less about how I felt about working in the lab, and more about the potential embarrassment that would follow. I had a lot of difficulties with my learning that semester as I became petrified not only with fainting in the lab, but in class, in my preceptors office, and eventually I thought it could happen at any moment.
Now, my case was fairly extreme and totally impairing. Remember, initially I seemed to be doing well in the lab but it only took one stimulus to trigger this anxiety-saturated cascade. But, there is an upside to all of this. I knew that I had issues with anatomy and my grades reflected that. I was given an ultimatum, and I had to do better on my term 2 lab examination mark.
So, how did I turn this around?
To be continued...
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