A patient infected with the Ebola virus is admitted to your hospital’s intensive care unit. You are called to intubate the patient for respiratory failure. What do you do?

Discussion: The first patients infected with Ebola virus entered the United States in 2014. American physicians are inexperienced with caring for patients with this disease. Because of physicians’ commitments to care for the sick and injured, individual doctors will have an obligation to provide urgent medical care during disasters. This will include Ebola patients.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) published Recommendations From the ASA Ebola Workgroup on October 24, 2014. See:

Select information in my column today is abstracted, copied, and summarized from this detailed publication. Let’s begin by reviewing some facts about the disease.

Ebola is an enveloped, single-stranded RNA virus, one of several hemorrhagic viral families first identified in a 1976 outbreak near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Transmission of Ebola is via direct contact, droplet contact, or possibly contact with short-range aerosols. The virus is carried in the blood and body fluids of an infected patient (i.e. urine, feces, saliva, vomit, breast milk, sweat, and semen). Risky exposures include exposure of your broken skin or mucous membranes to a percutaneous contaminated sharps injury, to contaminated fomites (a fomite is an inanimate object or substance, such as clothing, furniture, or soap, that is capable of transmitting infectious organisms from one individual to another), or to infected animals.

The case definition for Ebola includes fever, an epidemiologic risk factor including travel to West Africa (or exposure to someone who has recently traveled there), and one or more of these symptoms: severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, unexplained bleeding or bruising (appearing anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure), a maculopapular rash, disseminated intravascular coagulation, or multi-organ failure.

Although coughing and sneezing are not common symptoms of Ebola, if a symptomatic patient with Ebola coughs or sneezes on someone and saliva or mucus come into contact with that person’s eyes, nose or mouth, these fluids may transmit the disease. Ebola can survive outside the body on dry surfaces such as doorknobs and countertops for several hours. Virus in body fluids (such as blood) can survive up to several days at room temperature.

The treatment for Ebola is symptomatic management of volume status using blood bank products as indicated, and management of electrolytes, oxygenation, and hemodynamics.

Healthcare professionals must wear protective outfits when treating Ebola patients. Routine Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must include the following (when properly garbed, there should be no exposed skin):

  1. Surgical hood to ensure complete coverage of head and neck,
  2. Single-use face shield (goggles are no longer recommended due to issues with fogging and difficulty cleaning),
  3. N95 mask,
  4. An impermeable gown (with sleeves) that extends at least to mid-calf or coverall without a one-piece integrated hood (consideration should be given to wearing a protective coverall layer under the impermeable gown, which allows for layered protection and progressively less contaminated layers when doffing),
  5. Double gloves (i.e., disposable nitrile gloves with a cuff that extends beyond the cuff of the gown), the cuff of the first pair is worn under the gown and the second cuff should be over the gown, impermeable shoe covers that go to at least mid-calf or leg covers (there must be overlap of the impermeable layers),
  6. Impermeable and washable shoes,
  7. An apron that is waterproof and covers the torso to the level of the mid-calf should be used if Ebola patients have vomiting or diarrhea.

Enhanced Precaution PPE is advised for aerosol generating procedures such as intubation, extubation, bronchoscopy, airway suction, and surgery. This is the recommended level of PPE for anesthesiologists. Enhanced Precaution PPE includes:

  1. Personal Air-Purifying Respirator (PAPR) with full face piece mask,
  2. A disposable hood that extends to the shoulders and is compatible with the selected PAPR,
  3. A coverall without one-piece hood,
  4. Triple gloves (i.e., disposable nitrile with a cuff that extends beyond the cuff of the gown), the cuff of the first pair is worn under the gown and the second cuff should be over the gown and taped, and a third pair of disposable extended cuff nitrile gloves,
  5. Impermeable and washable shoes,
  6. Impermeable shoe covers, and
  7. Duct tape over all seams.

PPE donning (i.e. dressing in PPE outfit) must be performed in the proper order and monitored by a trained observer using a donning checklist. There should be separate designated areas for storage and donning of PPE (an adjacent patient care area), one-way movement to the patient’s room, and an exit to a separate room or anteroom for doffing procedures and disposal.

Doffing (i.e. PPE removal) is a high-risk process that requires a structured procedure, a trained observer (also in PPE), and a designated removal area. Doffing needs to be a slow and deliberate process and must be performed in the correct sequence using a doffing checklist.

Let’s return to our original question. What about that stat intubation you were called to perform in the ICU?

Stat intubations are not to be attempted on Ebola patients by anesthesiologists until the physician has properly donned the Enhanced Precaution PPE outfit. This necessitates significant time. Full Enhanced Precaution PPE precautions are mandated regardless of an emergency status or acute deterioration in patient status. Fiberoptic bronchoscopes are not recommended as aerosolization will occur and adequate cleaning is difficult. All equipment brought into the patient’s room must remain there and will be unusable for an indefinite period of time. Due to the extended time necessary to properly don and doff Enhanced Precaution PPE, an intubation of an Ebola patient could potentially take ninety minutes or longer when accounting for proper donning and doffing procedures.

What about performing surgery and anesthesia on Ebola patients? Patients with severe active disease would not likely tolerate an operation due to the severity of their disease. Any decision to operate should weigh all risks and benefits, specifically the risk of death from the current severity of the Ebola disease, the risk of death from their surgical disease, and the risk of exposure to the operating room team against the likelihood of potential benefit of emergency surgery.

Every effort should be given to keeping the patient in their own isolation room, and moving surgical and anesthetic equipment to the bedside. If possible, all procedures should be performed in the patient’s room.  Every effort should be given to keeping the patient in their own isolation room and moving surgical and anesthetic equipment to the bedside.

If it’s not feasible to perform the procedure or surgery in the intensive care unit room, an operating room should be designated for the patient. Preferably, this operating room should be away from traffic flow, have an anteroom, and not be connected to a clean core.

Transportation to and from the operating room hallways near the designated operating room should be blocked off.  Adjacent operating rooms will be closed. Traffic flow must be limited to only essential personnel involved with the case. PPE must be donned prior to entering the patient’s room.

Recovery from anesthesia will occur in the operating room or the patient’s hospital room, and not in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU).

These are the recommendations regarding operating room anesthesia set-up:

  1. Drawers of the anesthesia machine should be emptied except for the bare minimum of supplies.
  2. All additional items from atop the machine removed.
  3. The drawers should not be accessed unless absolutely necessary.
  4. All paperwork/laminated protocols and non-essential items must be removed from the machine.
  5. The anesthesia cart should be removed from the room and will not be directly accessible once the patient enters.
  6. An isolation cart (stainless steel or other easily cleanable table) should be stocked with all anticipated medications, emergency medications, syringes, needles, I.V. fluids (multiple), I.V. supplies, arterial line supplies, tubing, suction catheters, NG tubes, endotracheal tubes of appropriate size, additional ECG electrodes, gauze, chlorhexidine or alcohol pads, saline flushes, an extra BP cuff, a sharps container, additional gloves, and any additional equipment and supplies which the anesthesia attending for the cases requests.

Once the patient enters the operating room, absolutely no entry or exit from the operating room will occur without following PPE protocols. As such, bathroom and personal needs should be attended to prior to transporting the patient.

These are recommendations from The American Society of Anesthesiologists Ebola Workgroup. American physicians hope the number of Ebola cases in the United States will approach zero. As anesthesiologists we hope we’ll never be called to intubate or perform anesthesia on a patient infected with Ebola, but we understand our commitment to care for the sick and injured, and we understand that we have an obligation to provide urgent medical care during disasters.

Every hospital in America is in the process of understanding and implementing the above procedures regarding the isolation and protection of healthcare providers from the Ebola virus. If an Ebola patient is admitted to your hospital, I refer you to the complete American Society of America Ebola Workgroup Recommendations at:

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

On October 2, 2014 THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN became the world’s  #1 bestselling anesthesia Kindle book on

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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