Clinical Case for Discussion: A 3-year-old boy is eating a McDonalds Happy Meal on the lawn of the restaurant.  A lawn mower approaches, and a rock is ejected from the mower, hitting the child in the eye.  The boy suffers  an open eye injury, and is taken to the nearest hospital.  You are on call for the  repair.  You are an experienced practitioner, but not a pediatric anesthesia specialist.  What do you do?

Discussion:  There are two issues.  One is how to do the open-eye, full stomach anesthetic, and the other is pediatric anesthesia by non-pediatric anesthesia specialists.

Your goals for this anesthetic are to protect the airway, and to avoid increases in intraocular pressure (IOP).   The list of things which increase IOP, and risk further eye damage, includes crying, coughing,  the Valsalva manuver, laryngoscopy, and endotracheal intubation.   Ketamine and succinylcholine may also increase IOP.   Trying to start an IV without causing crying in a 3 year old can be  difficult.

No single approach to this patient is ideal, but a proposed approach to this patient is:   (1)  Apply EMLA cream, with occlusive dressing, over several potential IV sites 45 – 60 minutes before the IV attempt.  Next, give the child an oral midazolam premedication (.75 mg/kg), and wait until he becomes sedated enough to start the IV.

(2)  Once the IV is in place, a modified rapid sequence induction is done with cricoid pressure, using  rocuronium  as the muscle relaxant.  Either a priming dose of the relaxant, or a dosage of 2 X the normal intubating dose is used to speed the pace of neuromuscular blockade.  A nerve stimulator is used to  confirm that depth of muscle blockade is adequate, to avoid coughing during laryngoscopy.  The FDA black box warning regarding pediatric use of succinylcholine allows for its use for emergency intubation or for patients with a full stomach, but this author prefers to avoid it if alternatives exist.   Succinylcholine causes a transient (4 – 6 minute) increase in IOP of 10 to 20 mm Hg, although there have been no clinical case reports of further eye damage or other complications in open eye surgery following succinylcholine.  (Miller, Anesthesia, 2000, 2176-79).

(3)  If the child is chubby, and you are not able to place the IV despite adequate oral sedation, you may proceed with an inhalation induction with cricoid pressure maintained throughout.  Once the child is asleep, the IV can be placed, relaxant given, and the endotracheal tube inserted.

(4)  An oral gastric tube is used to suction out the stomach.

(5)  At the conclusion of surgery, the patient is extubated awake.  The approach to this type of patient is well summarized in Gregory, Pediatric Anesthesia, 1994, p 683.

The second issue in this case is that you are not a pediatric anesthesiologist.   Los Angeles Times  articles on February 24,  and March 6, 2003, described  an infant death and a near-death at a Southern California Kaiser hospital, when pediatric anesthesia care was given by a general anesthesiologist.  This Kaiser hospital has adopted  an interim policy to  limit anesthesia care for patients under the age of  2 years to anesthesiologists with specialized pediatric training.

At Stanford University Medical Center and Packard Children’s Hospital, the University service has a team of pediatric anesthesiologists with specialized training who attend to each pediatric anesthetic.  When private or University attendings reapply for medical staff privileges at Stanford every 2 years, we are required to tally the number of children we have anesthetized in the following age groups:  (a) newborn to 6 months,  and (b)  6 months to 6 years.  A minimum number of cases is needed to maintain privileges.

Things are different at a community hospital, where a  smaller team of anesthesiologists shares night call.  Unless the hospital is very large, it is uncommon to have multiple specialist anesthesiologists on call each day, e.g. one for pediatrics, one for cardiac cases, one for trauma, one for obstetrics, and one for the general OR.  It is common for general anesthesia practitioners to cover many or all specialties when they are on call.  If they are not comfortable with an individual case, they can seek out a better trained anesthesiologist, if one is available.  The trend for having a specialist anesthesiologist for every type of case, at all hours of the night and weekend, is a difficult one to staff.  The decision to care for a patient at  a community hospital is a judgment as to whether standards of care can be met with the physicians who are available.

In my opinion, neonates and  young infants should be cared for by  anesthesiologists with specialized pediatric training.  Whether specialized training should be mandated for older children is debatable.  Policies to define a minimum age limit for patients of general anesthesiologists may be a hot topic for the future.

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:




  1. I’m a pediatric anesthesiologist and I think age limit of 2 year set by kaiser is too high. Every general anesthesiologist should be able to take care of a HEALTHY child regardless of a page. I did my pediatric fellowship 9 years after being in practice as a general anesthesiologist. Every anesthesiologist in our community hospital group was capable of dealing with all age group including healthy newborn. Now I’m in a semi acedimic setting where all non pediatric anesthesiologist are so hesitant to take care of a child even if they are 2 year old which is just a shame. I’m full time with 2 part time pediatric anesthesiologists now every time on call a pediatric case come even a year old healthy child my general anesthesiologist colleague become highly anxious and end up in calling Peds person. In my previous practice where no one was pediatric trained showed excellence and in a practice where we have some pediatric coverage every one else is afraid to take care of Peds. This put so much burdain on pediatric anesthesiologist to be available all the time for coverage.


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