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These Trainees Will Have You In Stitches

, , , , , | Healthy | February 27, 2020

CONTENT WARNING: This story contains content of a medical nature. It is not intended as medical advice.

The first time I have to have stitches is during annual training for the military. My unit is required to participate in an exercise across the country. However, there is a prep period of about a week to two weeks depending on the size of the unit for this particular exercise, where we are required to be present and mostly do checks of equipment.

During this time, I am messing with my knife while by my bunk. I go to close the blade and nick my finger pretty bad, about half an inch deep on the tip of my index finger, right to the side of the nail to about the middle of the finger pad. I immediately go to my first aid kit to get gauze, thinking I’ll be able to stop the bleeding with direct pressure. I manage to reduce the amount of blood pouring from my finger a little, but after about an hour it hasn’t stopped so I am escorted to the aid station.

It isn’t during sick call hours, so it’s pretty slow and I’m admitted quickly. Despite reserving non-sick call hours for life, limb, and eyesight situations, they agree to see me. The major who is the equivalent of a surgeon or doctor comes in and analyzes the wound. It’s still bleeding and the flesh is separated, so he determines that I’ll need three sutures to keep the wound closed. I’m asked the question that would lead to me having the worst pain I have experienced in my life.

“Since it isn’t a life-threatening wound, would you mind if we let a few trainees inject the novocaine and apply the stitches?”

Ever so ignorant, I agree; besides, my mistake can be another person’s learning opportunity, so why not? I agree and I meet the two trainees who are my rank, and a nurse who is a non-commissioned officer walks in to supervise as well as the major.

As a boy, whenever I got nervous or fearful around needles and the like, my father taught me to overcome these fears by looking at the procedure and concentrating on the pain level and how the fear never really justified how much it actually hurt.

As they prepared the numbing agent and stuck me once, I felt nothing; the major concluded that they’d missed and had them do another dose. My finger felt numb at the base but the tip where they would be working still had full feeling. After triple the normal dose and six different tries, my finger was now swollen from the local anesthetic and I could still feel my fingertip. I could not receive any more medication, so they decided to continue anyway. 

I’ve dealt with needles. They didn’t hurt too much except that the trainees weren’t smooth on the exit and tore a bit while removing the needle. That’s not too bad; I give blood regularly and I’ve experienced it before. However, I saw the hook that was about to be sent through my body three times and I shuddered. These trainees had likely never done this before on a live subject. Granted, it wasn’t that bad of a wound, but it was still in one of the most nerve-rich centers on the body.

I tried to look at the procedure as the hook was pushed in for the first time and I nearly teared up from the pain. The NCO saw this and went into what I later learned was trauma nurse practices of distraction and breathing exercises. We talked about family and other subjects and when the pain got worse, she had to remind me to breathe. Twice more, they put the string through the skin while I forced myself to hold my hand as still as possible. The first two were done by the trainees and the last by the major. The major had experience so it wasn’t as terrible and took considerably less time.

When I was done, they wrapped it up and sent me back to my tent with no meds or painkillers —  which I sort of understand — just with training, gauze, and other medical supplies to change the bandages every 24 hours. 

I still had to go through the week-long exercise, and my bandages were removed in the field with a pair of scissors a week later. I still have the scar from the uneven stitching and I shudder whenever I think about having inexperienced medical staff perform stitches without effective anesthetic. To this day, I don’t trust local anesthetic by anyone, and I had to be put under general when I had my wisdom teeth removed about two months later.

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