Chemical formula for propanolol, the first beta blocker

Clinical Case of the Month:  A 62-year-old asthmatic with obstructive sleep apnea develops a heart rate of 125 and a blood pressure of 160/95 in the Recovery Room, thirty minutes following a UPPP.  His pain is well controlled, and he has no dyspnea or chest pain.  The patient is two years status-post an inferior myocardial infarction, and is known to have 60% occlusions of his left anterior and circumflex coronary arteries.  The nurse asks you if she can give the patient a beta-blocker.  What do you do?

Discussion:   By the time you receive the call from the Recovery Room, you’ve already returned to the OR.  You’ve already induced and intubated your next patient.  You give the Recovery Room nurse a verbal order to administer 10 mg of IV labetolol.  The nurse calls back five minutes later, and says that the patient developed severe wheezing, the oxygen saturation dropped to 60%, and he’s complaining of substernal chest pain.  You call one of your partners to take over your anesthetized patient, and you rush to the Recovery Room.  You arrive just in time to witness your cyanotic wheezing patient go into cardiac arrest.

A miserable scenario.  Is it possible?  If your patient died, do you think a plaintiff’s attorney would be willing to sue you for malpractice?  Can you imagine this question at the deposition:  “Doctor, what were you thinking when you treated this patient with known bronchospastic disease with a drug known to reverse beta-mediated bronchodilation?”

There are multiple case reports in the medical literature where non-selective beta-blockers led to exacerbations of bronchospasm in patients with asthma.  As recently as 1995, one could find admonishments like this in the medical literature:  “Worsening or precipitation of asthma by beta-adrenoceptor antagonists is well recognized. Severe bronchoconstriction may be induced even in ‘mild’ asthmatics, and the dose of beta blocker required may be low, as in the case of eye drops of timolol, a nonselective beta blocker used to treat glaucoma. The severity of bronchoconstrictor response is not predictable. Nonselective beta blockers are more likely to precipitate bronchospasms in patients with asthma. The mechanism of beta-blocker-induced asthma is still not certain. Normal subjects develop neither a deterioration in lung function nor an increased bronchial hyperreactivity; therefore, beta blocker drugs should in general be avoided by asthma patients.”  (Im Hof, Schweiz Rundsch Med Prax. 1995 Mar 14;84(11):319-20).

Let’s step back to paragraph one, and think things over again.  Because your tachycardic, hypertensive patient has coronary artery disease, you are concerned about his risk for an acute cardiac event.  You run through a quick benefit-risk analysis.  If you do nothing, the patient may develop angina or a myocardial infarction.  If you treat the hypertension with a vasodilator, you can decrease the blood pressure, but you’re likely to increase heart rate further.  If you give a beta-blocker, you’re aware that there is some risk of inducing bronchospasm.

What about a beta-1 cardioselective beta-blocker?  How safe would a beta-1 blocker be in this situation?  You order the nurse to titrate in 2 mg IV increments of metoprolol.  After 6 mg, the heart rate decreases to 72 beats per minute, and the blood pressure is 110/75.  The patient does not develop wheezing.

In their paper Safety of therapeutic beta-blockade in patients with coexisting bronchospastic airway disease and coronary artery disease (Am J Ther. 2003 Jan-Feb;10(1):48-50), S. Khosla et al prospectively followed 835 consecutive outpatients with symptomatic coronary artery disease at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Chicago.  Thirty of the 835 patients had concurrent bronchospastic disease.  All patients were treated with an oral beta-1 antagonist.  Twenty-nine of the thirty patients attained successful beta blockade (defined as heart rate less than 70) without bronchospasm.  One patient discontinued the beta-1 blocker as a result of lifestyle-limiting bronchospasm.  He had no serious adverse outcome, and did not require hospitalization.  The authors concluded that selective beta-1 blocker usage was safe in this population.

What about intravenous beta-1 blockers in the setting of acute cardiovascular disease?  In their paper, Beta-blocker therapy of cardiovascular diseases in patients with bronchial asthma or COPD: The pro viewpoint, Ashrafian and Violaris reported:  “Extensive randomized clinical trial data support the view that beta-blockers have a significant impact on the prognosis of patients with cardiovascular disease, especially those with coronary artery disease and chronic heart failure. Unfortunately, this essential treatment is often withheld from patients with asthma and from some patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The principal concern, a concern supported by a number of guidelines, is that beta-blockers may precipitate severe and potentially fatal bronchospasm. However, a number of studies, culminating in a recent meta-analysis, show that cardioselective beta-blockers are not only safe but are beneficial in patients with co-existing airways and coronary disease. In this article we review the evidence supporting the position that cardioselective beta-blockers, when introduced with care in both community and hospital settings, are safe in patients with mild airways disease and can significantly improve prognosis.” (Prim Care Respir J. 2005 Oct;14(5):236-41).

Although I was unable to find a prospective, randomized trial documenting the safety of intravenous beta-1 blockers in patients with both bronchospastic disease and coronary artery disease, it’s my impression that the literature supports this practice.

I queried the other private practice anesthesiologists on the faculty at Stanford University Hospital regarding their use of beta-blockers in asthmatic patients, and the results were consistent.  The private attendings favored a risk-benefit analysis, but almost everyone admitted to titrating small doses of beta-1 antagonists, when indicated, in patients with bronchospastic disease.  None of my colleagues reported a complication with this practice.

When I finished my Stanford anesthesia residency in 1986, almost no one dared to give IV beta-blockers to an asthmatic.  Things change. That’s my advice to the residents of 2006-2007:  keep on reading after residency, because . . . things will keep changing.

Introducing …,  THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN, Dr. Novak’s debut novel, a legal mystery. Publication date September 9, 2014 by Pegasus Books.

The first four chapters are available for free at Amazon. Read them and you’ll be hooked! To reach the Amazon webpage, click on the book image below:


Stanford professor Dr. Nico Antone leaves the wife he hates and the job he loves to return to Hibbing, Minnesota where he spent his childhood. He believes his son’s best chance to get accepted into a prestigious college is to graduate at the top of his class in this remote Midwestern town. His son becomes a small town hero and academic star, while Dr. Antone befriends Bobby Dylan, a deranged anesthetist who renamed and reinvented himself as a younger version of the iconic rock legend who grew up in Hibbing. An operating room death rocks their world, and Dr. Antone’s family and his relationship to Mr. Dylan are forever changed.

Equal parts legal thriller and medical thriller, The Doctor and Mr. Dylan examines the dark side of relationships between a doctor and his wife, a father and his son, and a man and his best friend. Set in a rural Northern Minnesota world reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ Fargo, The Doctor and Mr. Dylan details scenes of family crises, operating room mishaps, and courtroom confrontation, and concludes in a final twist that will leave readers questioning what is of value in the world we live in.


5.0 out of 5 stars The Doctor and Mr Dylan, March 3, 2015
prabha venugopal (chicago, il USA) – See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
Gripping from the beginning to the end. Very well written, bringing to the forefront all the human emotions seen in an operating room spill over into real life. I cannot wait for Dr. Novak to wrote another book! As another physician in the same profession, my admiration for his book knows no limits.

Bang-Up Debut Novel, November 16, 2014

By Norm Goldman “Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures”

This part legal and medical thriller is structured with a mixed bag of situations involving relationships, jealousy, evil, lies, courtroom drama, operating room mishaps as well as moments that engender conflicting and unexpected outcomes. Noteworthy is that as the suspense builds readers will become eager to uncover the truth involving a mishap concerning Nico and a surgical procedure that has unanticipated ramifications.

This is a bang-up debut from a writer who understands timing and is able to deliver hairpin turns, particularly involving the courtroom drama,that you would expect from a book of this genre. PIONEER PRESS Entertainment

by Mary Ann Grossman, Entertainment Editor, St. Paul Pioneer Press, January 4, 2015

“The Doctor & Mr. Dylan” by Rick Novak (Pegasus Books, $17.50)

Dr. Nico Antone doesn’t hide the fact he hates his wife, but he says he didn’t kill her during an operation. The authorities think otherwise and his trial is the riveting suspense in this novel that is part medical thriller, part legal thriller, part exploration of family relationships.

Nico is an anesthesiologist (as is the author) who leaves his wife, their plush life in California and his job at Stanford to move to his hometown of Hibbing so their son, Johnny, has a better chance of getting into a prestigious college. Johnny hates the idea of moving to a small, cold town, but he’s popular from the first day in school. Nico doesn’t do so well. He’s envied by Bobby, an anesthetist who’s jealous of the better-educated Nico. But it’s hard to take Bobby seriously, since he thinks he’s the young Bob Dylan and lives in the house where Bobby Zimmerman grew up. To complicate matters, Nico is attracted to the mother of the young woman his son is dating. When the two teens get in trouble, Nico’s furious, rich wife comes to Minnesota and needs an emergency operation that puts her on Nico’s operating table.

Novak grew up in Hibbing, where he worked in the iron ore mines and played on the U.S. Junior Men’s Curling championship teams of 1974 and ’75. After graduating from Carleton College, he earned a medical degree at the University of Chicago and spent 30-plus years at Stanford Hospital, where he was an associate professor of anesthesia and Deputy Chief of the Anesthesia Department. His courtroom scenes are based on his experiences as an expert witness.

The Physician’s Late-Night Reading List

Two Pritzker alums pen captivating tales

By Brooke E. O’Neill, University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, editir, Medicine on the Midway Magazine

For most physicians, writing — patient notes, case histories, perhaps journal articles — is part of the job. But for anesthesiologist-novelist Rick Novak, MD’80, and neurosurgeon-memoirist Moris Senegor, MD’82, it’s a second career that consumes early morning hours long before they step into the OR.

Fans of John Grisham will find a kindred spirit in Novak, whose fast-paced medical thriller, The Doctor & Mr. Dylan (Pegasus Books, 2014), transports readers to rural Northern Minnesota, where an accomplished physician and a deranged anesthetist who thinks he’s rock legend Bob Dylan see their worlds collide in the most unexpected ways.

Delivering real-life twists and turns — and a love letter to the Bay Area — is Senegor’s Dogmeat: A Memoir of Love and Neurosurgery in San Francisco (Xlibris, 2014), a coming-of-age tale chronicling the author’s away rotation with renowned neurosurgeon Charles Wilson, MD, at the University of California, San Francisco. Brutally honest, it spares no details of a time Senegor, who also served as a resident under the University of Chicago’s famed neurosurgery chair Sean Mullan, MD, describes as “one of the biggest failures of my life.”

One a vividly imagined nail-biter, the other an intimate peek into the surgical suite, both books deliver an ample dose of intensity and drama.



The Doctor and Mr. Dylan (Pegasus Books, 2014) by Rick Novak, MD’80

“I thought it was a novel way of killing someone,” said Rick Novak, deputy chief of anesthesiology at Stanford University, describing the imagined hospital death that was the genesis of his dark thriller The Doctor & Mr. Dylan. A huge Bob Dylan fan — the rock icon was born in Novak’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, where the story takes place — he then dreamed up a possible culprit: a psychotic anesthetist who thinks he’s Dylan.

From there, the words flowed. “I would write whenever I was with my laptop and had a free moment: in mornings, in evenings, in gaps between cases,” said Novak, who also blogs about anesthesia topics. “I don’t sleep much.”

After finishing the manuscript — one year to write, another to edit — came the challenge of finding a publisher. “In anesthesia, I’m an expert,” Novak said. “In the literary world, I’m an unknown.” After 207 responses of “no, thanks” or no answer at all, he landed an agent. Two months later, she informed him that Pegasus Books had bought his debut novel.

“I started crying,” Novak admits. “I have a third grader and at the time the big word the class was learning was ‘perseverance.’ That was it exactly.”

Dr. Joseph Andresen, Editor, Santa Clara County Medical Association Medical Bulletin, from the January/February 2015 issue:


This past month, Dr. Rick Novak handed me a hardbound copy of his debut novel The Doctor and Mr. Dylan. Rick and I go way back. It was my first week of residency at Stanford when we first met. A newcomer to the operating room, all the smells and sounds were foreign to me despite my previous three years in the hospital as an internal medicine resident. Rick, a soft spoken Minnesotan at heart, in his second year of residency, took me under his wing and guided me through those first few bewildering months, sharing his experience and wisdom freely.

Fast-forward 30 years later. Dr. Rick Novak, a novel and mystery author? This was new to me as I sat down and opened the first page of The Doctor and Mr. Dylan. I have to admit that I didn’t know what to expect. Few books highlight a physician/anesthesiologist as a protagonist, and few books feature a SCCMA member as a physician/author. However, a medical-mystery theme novel wasn’t at the top of my must read list. With my 50-hour workweek, living and breathing medicine, imagining more emotional stress and drama was the furthest thing from my mind. However, three days later, as I turned the last page, and read the last few words. “life is a series of choices. I stuck my forefinger into the crook of the steering wheel, spun it hard to the left and …” This completed my 72-hour journey of and free moments I had, completely immersed in this story of life’s disappointments, human imperfections, and simple joys.

Rick, I can’t wait for your next book. Bravo!

Hibbingite writes twisted medical tale

HIBBING — Readers who are looking for a whodunit that will keep them up all night are in for a treat.

Hibbing native Rick Novak recently released his first book “The Doctor and Mr. Dylan,” a fiction set in Hibbing that merges anesthesia complications, a tumultuous marriage and the legend of Bob Dylan.

“The dialogue is sometimes funny, and there are lots of plot twists,” he said.

Novak said the book will not only entertain readers, but teach them about anesthesiology, Dylanology, the stressful race for elite college admission, and life on the Iron Range.

“The book is very conversational and streamlined,” he said. “I try to write as one would tell a story out loud.”

Novak said “The Doctor and Mr. Dylan” took him three years to perfect. He is currently working on his second book.

5.0 out of 5 stars I Sense We Have Another F.Scott Fitzgerald Emerging on the Literary Scene, December 1, 2014
Deann Brady (Sunnyvale, CA USA) – See all my reviews
I found Rick Novak’s first novel, “The Doctor and Mr. Dylan,” a most exciting combination of biting sarcasm, mystery and daily activity spun with fresh new phrases that made me turn my ear back to listen to the literary cadence of his words again and again even though, on the other hand, I was anxious to turn the pages to see what would happen next. His brilliant handling of scenes is reminiscent of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A compelling read!Deany Brady, author of “An Appalachian Childhood”


allan mishra

This review is from: The Doctor and Mr. Dylan (Kindle Edition)

Just finished Dr. Novak’s delightful novel. I sincerely enjoyed his honest take about the pressures and values that exist within California’s Silicon Valley. He also brought the North Country of Minnesota to life with memorable characters and a twisting, addictive plot. Buried beneath the fun and funny story is a deeper message about how to best care for your kids, your relationships and yourself. Very well written and highly recommended.

Learn more about Rick Novak’s fiction writing at rick by clicking on the picture below:



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