One of the most frequent questions I hear from patients before surgery is, “How long will it take me to wake up from general anesthesia?”

The answer is, “It depends.” It depends on:

  1. What drugs the anesthesia provider uses
  2. How long your surgery lasts
  3. How healthy, how old, and how slender you are
  4. What type of surgery you are having
  5. The skill level of your anesthesia provider

In best circumstances you’ll be awake and talking within 5 to 10 minutes from the time your anesthesia provider turns off the anesthetic. Let’s look at each of the five factors above.

  1. WHAT DRUGS THE ANESTHETIST USES. The effects of modern anesthetic drugs wear off fast.
  • The most common intravenous anesthetic hypnotic drug is propofol. Propofol levels in your blood drop quickly after administration of the drug is terminated, resulting in rapid awakening.
  • The most common inhaled anesthetic drugs are sevoflurane, desflurane, and nitrous oxide. Each of these gases are exhaled from the body quickly after their administration is terminated, resulting in rapid awakening.
  • The most commonly used intravenous narcotic is fentanyl. Fentanyl levels in your blood drop quickly after administration of the drug is terminated, resulting in rapid awakening.
  • The most commonly used intravenous anti-anxiety drug is midazolam (Versed). Midazolam levels in your blood drop quickly after administration of the drug is terminated, resulting in rapid awakening.
  • The shorter your surgery lasts, the less injectable and inhaled drugs you will receive.
  • Lower doses and shorter exposure times to anesthetic drugs lead to a faster wake up time.
  • Healthy patients with fit hearts, lungs, and brains wake up sooner
  • Young patients wake up quicker than geriatric patients
  • Slender patients wake up quicker than very obese patients
  • A minor surgery with minimal post-operative pain, such a hammertoe repair or a tendon repair on your thumb, will lead to a faster wake up.
  • A complex surgery such as an open-heart procedure or a liver transplant will lead to a slower wake up.
  • Like any profession, the longer the duration of time a practitioner has rehearsed his or her art, the better they will perform. An experienced pilot is likely to perform smoother landings of his aircraft than a novice. An experienced anesthesiologist is likely to wake up his or her patients more quickly than a novice.
  • There are multiple possible recipes or techniques for an anesthetic plan for any given surgery. An advantageous recipe may include local anesthesia into the surgical site or a regional anesthetic block to minimize post-operative pain, rather than administering higher doses of intravenous narcotics or sedatives which can prolong wake up times. Experienced anesthesia providers develop reliable time-tested recipes for rapid wake ups.
  • Although I can’t site any data, I believe the additional training and experience of a board-certified anesthesiologist physician is an advantage over the training and experience of a certified nurse anesthetist.


Let’s say you’re scheduled to have your gall bladder removed at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow morning. This would be a typical timeline for your day:

6:00            You arrive at the operating room suite. You check in with front desk and nursing staff.

7:00             You meet your anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist. Your anesthesia provider reviews your chart, examines your airway, heart, and lungs, and explains the anesthetic plan and options to you. After you consent, he or she starts an intravenous line in your arm.

7:15             Your anesthesia provider administers intravenous midazolam (Versed) into your IV, and you become more relaxed and sedated within one minute. Your anesthesia provider wheels your gurney into the operating room, and you move yourself from the gurney to the operating room table. Because of the amnestic effect of the midazolam, you probably will not remember any of this.

7:30             Your anesthesia provider induces general anesthesia by injecting intravenous propofol and fentanyl, places a breathing tube into your windpipe, and administers inhaled sevoflurane and intravenous propofol to keep you asleep.

7:40            Your anesthesia provider, your surgeon, and the nurse move your body into optimal position on the operating room table. The nurse preps your skin with antiseptic, and the scrub tech frames your abdomen with sterile paper drapes. The surgeons wash their hands and don sterile gowns and gloves. The nurses prepare the video equipment so the surgeon can see inside your abdomen with a laparoscope during surgery.

8:00            The surgery begins.

8:45             The surgery ends. Your anesthesia provider turns off the anesthetics sevoflurane and propofol.

8:55             You open your eyes, and your anesthesia provider removes the breathing tube from your windpipe.

9:05             Your anesthesia provider transports you to the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) on the original gurney you started on.

9:10            Your anesthesia provider explains your history to the PACU nurse, who will care for you for the next hour or two. The anesthesia provider then returns to the pre-operative area to meet their next patient. Your anesthesia provider is still responsible for your orders and your medical care until you leave the PACU. He or she is available on cell phone or beeper at all times. No family members are allowed in the PACU.

10:40            You are discharged from the PACU to your inpatient room, or to home if you are fit enough to leave the hospital or surgery center.


  1. Even though the surgery only lasted 45 minutes, you were in the operating room for one hour and 35 minutes.
  2. It took you 10 minutes to awaken, from 8:45 to 8:55.
  3. Even though you were awake and talking at 8:55, you were unlikely to remember anything from that time.
  4. You probably had no memory of the time from the midazolam administration at 7:15 until after you’d reached in the PACU, when your consciousness level returned toward normal.






Introducing …  THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN, Dr. Novak’s debut novel, a medical-legal mystery which blends the science and practice of anesthesiology with unforgettable characters, a page-turning plot, and the legacy of Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan.

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

To reach the Amazon webpage, click on the book image below:



In this debut thriller, tragedies strike an anesthesiologist as he tries to start a new life with his son.

Dr. Nico Antone, an anesthesiologist at Stanford University, is married to Alexandra, a high-powered real estate agent obsessed with money. Their son, Johnny, an 11th-grader with immense potential, struggles to get the grades he’ll need to attend an Ivy League college. After a screaming match with Alexandra, Nico moves himself and Johnny from Palo Alto, California, to his frozen childhood home of Hibbing, Minnesota. The move should help Johnny improve his grades and thus seem more attractive to universities, but Nico loves the freedom from his wife, too. Hibbing also happens to be the hometown of music icon Bob Dylan. Joining the hospital staff, Nico runs afoul of a grouchy nurse anesthetist calling himself Bobby Dylan, who plays Dylan songs twice a week in a bar called Heaven’s Door. As Nico and Johnny settle in, their lives turn around; they even start dating the gorgeous mother/daughter pair of Lena and Echo Johnson. However, when Johnny accidentally impregnates Echo, the lives of the Hibbing transplants start to implode. In true page-turner fashion, first-time novelist Novak gets started by killing soulless Alexandra, which accelerates the downfall of his underdog protagonist now accused of murder. Dialogue is pitch-perfect, and the insults hurled between Nico and his wife are as hilarious as they are hurtful: “Are you my husband, Nico? Or my dependent?” The author’s medical expertise proves central to the plot, and there are a few grisly moments, as when “dark blood percolated” from a patient’s nostrils “like coffee grounds.” Bob Dylan details add quirkiness to what might otherwise be a chilly revenge tale; we’re told, for instance, that Dylan taught “every singer with a less-than-perfect voice…how to sneer and twist off syllables.” Courtroom scenes toward the end crackle with energy, though one scene involving a snowmobile ties up a certain plot thread too neatly. By the end, Nico has rolled with a great many punches.

Nuanced characterization and crafty details help this debut soar.


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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