In 1986 the American Society of Anesthesiologists adopted pulse oximetry and end-tidal CO2 monitoring as standards of care.  These two monitors were our specialty’s major advances in the 1980’s, and made anesthesia safer for everyone.

What are the most significant advances affecting anesthesia since that time? As a clinician in private practice, I’ve personally administered over 20,000 anesthetics in the past quarter century.  Based on my experience and observations, I’ve assembled my list of the Top Ten Most Useful Advances Affecting Anesthesia from 1987-2012.  I’ve also assembled my list of the Five Most Overrated Advances Affecting Anesthesia from 1987-2012.


#10. The cell phone (replacing the beeper).  Cell phones changed the world, and they changed anesthesia practice as well.  Before the cell phone, you’d get paged while driving home and have to search to find a payphone.  Cell phones allow you to be in constant contact with all the nurses and doctors involved in your patient’s care at all times.  No one should carry a beeper anymore.

#9. Ultrasound use in the operating room.  The ultrasound machine aids peripheral nerve blockade and catheter placement, and intravascular catheterization.  Nerve block procedures used to resemble “voodoo medicine,” as physicians stuck sharp needles into tissues in search of paresthesias and nerve stimulation.  Now we can see what we’re doing.

#8.  The video laryngoscope.  Surgeons have been using video cameras for decades.  We finally caught up.  Although there’s no need for a video laryngoscope on routine cases, the device is an invaluable tool for seeing around corners during difficult intubations.

#7.  Rocuronium.  Anesthesiologists long coveted a replacement for the side-effect-ridden depolarizing muscle relaxant succinylcholine.  Rocuronium is not as rapid in onset as succinylcholine, but it is the fastest non-depolarizer in our pharmaceutical drawer.  If you survey charts of private practice anesthesiologists, you’ll see rocuronium used 10:1 over any other relaxant.

#6.  Zofran.  The introduction of ondansetron and the 5-HT3 receptor blocking drugs gave anesthesiologists our first effective therapy to combat post-operative nausea and vomiting.

#5.  The Internet.  The Internet changed the world, and the Internet changed anesthesia practice as well.  With Internet access, clinicians are connected to all known published medical knowledge at all times.  Doctors have terrific memories, but no one remembers everything.  Now you can research any medical topic in seconds. Some academics opine that the use of electronic devices in the operating room is dangerous, akin to texting while driving.  Monitoring an anesthetized patient is significantly different to driving a car.  Much of O.R. monitoring is auditory.  We listen to the oximeter beep constantly, which confirms that our patient is well oxygenated.  A cacophony of alarms sound whenever vital signs vary from norms.  An anesthesia professional should never let any electronic device distract him or her from vigilant monitoring of the patient.

#4.  The ASA Difficult Airway Algorithm.  Anesthesia and critical care medicine revolve around the mantra of “Airway-Breathing-Circulation.”  When the ASA published the Difficult Airway Algorithm in Anesthesiology in 2003, they validated a systematic approach to airway management and to the rescue of failed airway situations.  It’s an algorithm that we’ve all committed to memory, and anesthesia practice is safer as a result.

#3.  Sevoflurane.  Sevo is the volatile anesthetic of choice in community private practice, and is a remarkable improvement over its predecessors.  Sevoflurane is as insoluble as nitrous oxide, and its effect dissipates significantly faster than isoflurane.  Sevo has a pleasant smell, and it replaced halothane for mask inductions.

#2.  Propofol.  Propofol is wonderful hypnotic for induction and maintenance.   It produces a much faster wake-up than thiopental, and causes no nausea.  Propofol makes us all look good when recovery rooms are full of wide-awake, happy patients.

#1.  The Laryngeal Mask Airway.  What an advance the LMA was.  We used to insert endotracheal tubes for almost every general anesthesia case.  Endotracheal tubes necessitated laryngoscopy, muscle relaxation, and reversal of muscle relaxation.  LMA’s are now used for most extremity surgeries, many head and neck surgeries, and most ambulatory anesthetics.


#5.   Office-based general anesthesia.  With the advent of propofol, every surgeon with a spare closet in their office became interested in doing surgery in that closet, and they want you to give general anesthesia there.  You can refuse, but if there is money to be earned, chances are some anesthesia colleague will step forward with their service.  Keeping office general anesthesia safe and at the standard of care takes careful planning regarding equipment, monitors, and emergency resuscitation protocols.  Another disadvantage is the lateral spread of staffing required when an anesthesia group is forced to cover solitary cases in multiple surgical offices at 7:30 a.m.  A high percentage of these remote sites will have no surgery after 11 a.m.

#4.  Remifentanil.  Remi was touted as the ultra-short-acting narcotic that paralleled the ultra-short hypnotic propofol.  The problem is that anesthesiologists want hypnotics to wear off fast, but are less interested in narcotics that wear off and don’t provide post-operative analgesia.  I see remi as a solid option for neuroanesthesia, but its usefulness in routine anesthetic cases is minimal.

#3.  Desflurane.  Desflurane suffers from not being as versatile a drug as sevoflurane.  It’s useless for mask inductions, causes airway irritation in spontaneously breathing patients, and causes tachycardia in high doses.  Stick with sevo.

#2.  The BIS Monitor.  Data never confirmed the value of this device to anesthesiologists, and it never gained popularity as a standard for avoiding awareness during surgery.

#1.  The electronic medical record.  Every facet of American society uses computers to manage information, so it was inevitable that medicine would follow. Federal law is mandating the adoption of EMRs.  But while you are clicking and clicking through hundreds of Epic EMR screens at Stanford just to finish one case, anesthesiologists in surgery centers just miles away are still documenting their medical records in minimal time by filling out 2 or 3 sheets of paper per case. Today’s EMRs are primitive renditions of what will follow. I’ve heard the price tag for the current EMR at our medical center approached $500 million.  How long will it take to recoup that magnitude of investment?  I know the EMR has never assisted me in caring for a patient’s Airway, Breathing, or Circulation in an acute care setting.  Managing difficulties with the EMR can easily distract from clinical care.  Is there any data that demonstrates an EMR’s value to anesthesiologists or perioperative physicians?

Your Top Ten List and Overrated Five List will differ from mine.  Feel free to communicate your opinions to me at

As we read this, hundreds of companies and individuals are working on new products.  Future Top Ten lists will boast a fresh generation of inventions to aid us in taking better care of our patients.

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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