Clinical Case for Discussion: You’re anesthetizing a 60-year-old woman for a thyroidectomy. The surgeon tells you, “If this woman bucks on the endotracheal tube on awakening it could cause a neck hematoma and damage my surgical closure. Can you extubate her deep?”

Discussion: The patient has a normal airway, and she is healthy and slender. You decide to comply with the surgeon’s request and remove the endotracheal tube (ET tube) at the end of surgery while the patient is still fully anesthetized. You turn off the nitrous oxide, allow the patient to breath 100% oxygen and 3% sevoflurane, and suction the patient’s throat. You deflate the cuff on the ET tube and remove the tube. Once the tube is withdrawn, you turn off all anesthetics. At this point the patient coughs and her mouth fills with yellow gastric contents. You suction the mouth again, but the patient develops upper airway obstruction. The oxygen saturation drops to 80%. Your diagnosis is laryngospasm. You attempt to apply continuous positive airway pressure with an anesthesia mask, but her oxygen saturation falls to 70%. Panicked, you inject 100 mg of IV succinylcholine to re-paralyze the patient, and you perform laryngoscopy and reintubate her. After the ET tube is replaced, the oxygen saturation returns to 100%. You suction through the lumen of the ET tube, and you find yellow gastric material inside the lungs. You diagnose aspiration.

After a 10½ hour flight from Seoul, Korea, an Asiana airplane crashed on landing at San Francisco Airport on July 6, 2013. Aviation and anesthesia have similarities. The takeoff and landing of an airplane, just as induction and emergence from anesthesia, are more complex events than piloting the middle of a plane flight or managing the maintenance phase of a long anesthetic.

The timing of the removal of the endotracheal tube at the end of an anesthetic requires skill and judgment. Does deep extubation ever make sense? During my first year after residency training, a gray-haired anesthesia attending at my new medical center told me, “Richard, in private practice you never extubate anyone deep.” Twenty-seven years later, I’m writing to convince you he was right.

Let’s define “deep extubation.” Per Miller’s Anesthesia, 7th Edition, 2009, Chapter 50, “Extubation may be performed at different depths of anesthesia, with the terms ‘awake,’ ‘light,’ and ‘deep’ often being used. ‘Light’ implies recovery of protective respiratory reflexes and ‘deep’ implies their absence. ‘Awake’ implies appropriate response to verbal stimuli. ‘Deep’ extubation is performed to avoid adverse reflexes caused by the presence of the tracheal tube and its removal, at the price of a higher risk of hypoventilation and upper airway obstruction. Straining, which could disrupt the surgical repair, is less likely with ‘deep’ extubation. Upper airway obstruction and hypoventilation are less likely during ‘light’ extubation, at the price of adverse hemodynamic and respiratory reflexes.”

The medical literature describes deep extubation as extubating a patient who is still breathing 1.5 times the minimal alveolar concentration (MAC) of inhaled anesthetic. A 2004 study examined 48 children tracheally extubated while deeply anesthetized with 1.5 times the MAC of desflurane (Group D) or sevoflurane (Group S). No serious complications occurred in either group, and the time to discharge was not significantly different between groups. The study concluded that deep extubation of children can be performed safely with desflurane or sevoflurane. (Valley RD, Anesth Analg. 2003 May;96(5):1320-4, Tracheal extubation of deeply anesthetized pediatric patients: a comparison of desflurane and sevoflurane.)

In a prospective trial, 100 children age<16 years, each with at least one risk factor for perioperative respiratory adverse events (e.g. current or recent upper respiratory tract infection or asthma) were randomized to extubation under deep anesthesia or extubation when fully awake after tonsillectomy. There were no differences in respiratory adverse events (laryngospasm, bronchospasm, persistent coughing, airway obstruction, or desaturation <95%). Tracheal extubation in fully awake children was associated with a greater incidence of persistent coughing (60 vs. 35%, P = 0.028), however the incidence of airway obstruction relieved by simple airway maneuvers in children extubated while deeply anaesthetized was greater (26 vs. 8%, P = 0.03).

Seventy healthy patients between 2 and 8 yr of age who had elective strabismus surgery or tonsillectomy were randomly assigned to group 1 (awake extubation) or group 2 (anesthetized extubation). The incidence of airway-related complications such as laryngospasm, croup, sore throat, excessive coughing, and arrhythmias was not different between the two groups. The authors concluded that the anesthesiologist’s preference or surgical requirements may dictate the choice of extubation technique in otherwise healthy children undergoing elective surgery. (Patel RI, Anesth Analg. 1991 Sep;73(3):266-70. Emergence airway complications in children: a comparison of tracheal extubation in awake and deeply anesthetized patients).

In an informal poll of the private practice anesthesiologists at Stanford University, the incidence of deep extubation (i.e. patient extubated asleep while breathing >1.5 MAC of inhaled anesthetic) approached zero. Why do I and my colleagues avoid deep extubation? If you have a life-saving and life-preserving device such as an endotracheal tube safely in place in your patient, and your goal is to maintain the values of Airway, Breathing, and Circulation, why remove that life-preserving device prematurely without any evidence that such a removal is beneficial? Why leave your anesthetized patient with an unprotected airway?

I cannot cite you outcome data that shows awake extubation provides superior outcomes to deep extubation, but with modern short-acting anesthetics such as propofol, sevoflurane, and desflurane, a well-trained anesthesiologist can decrease anesthetic depth quickly and have their patient very awake within minutes after the conclusion of surgery. Per Miller’s Aesthesia, “Rapid recovery of consciousness shortens the at-risk time during extubation and may reduce morbidity, particularly in obese patients. … Nitrous oxide, sevoflurane, and desflurane all contribute to rapid recovery, particularly after prolonged procedures.”

If your patient vomits on emergence and the ET tube is still in situ, the cuff on the ET tube will protect their lower airway. And if you choose to extubate your patient awake, the occurrence of laryngospasm will be, in this author’s experience, rare.

It’s true that coughing on an ET tube can disrupt surgical repairs, increase intracranial pressure, increase intraocular pressure, or cause hypertension and tachycardia, but per Miller’s Anesthesia, “Marked increases in arterial blood pressure and heart rate occur frequently at the time of ‘light’ extubation. These effects are alarming but normally transient, and there is little evidence of adverse consequences.”

My advice: Use light levels of general anesthetics on your intubated patients, and learn how to wake your patients from general anesthesia quickly at the conclusion of surgery. Don’t suction the patient until you are ready to remove the ET tube, because the suction catheter stimulates early coughing.

The ET tube is your friend. I’d recommend you don’t pull it out until you’re certain you don’t need it any more.

The definitive reference from the medical literature on this topic is Popat M, Mitchell V, et al. Difficult Airway Society Guidelines for the management of tracheal extubation, Anaesthesia 2012, 67, 318-340.


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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