Clinical Case: In your first week in community practice post-residency and fellowship, you’re scheduled to anesthetize a 4-year-old for a tonsillectomy. You’ll start the anesthetic without an attending or a second anesthesiologist. How do you start a pediatric anesthetic alone?

Discussion: During residency it’s standard to initiate pediatric cases with an attending at your right hand to mentor and assist you through the induction of anesthesia. The second pair of hands is critical—one of you manages the airway for the inhalation induction, and the second anesthesiologist starts the IV. In community practice you’ll have to manage all this yourself.

A significant percentage of pediatric anesthetics are performed in regional hospitals and surgery centers rather than in pediatric tertiary hospitals. How does the community practice of pediatric anesthesia differ from pediatric anesthesia in residency?

In community practice you’ll likely telephone the parents the night prior to surgery to discuss the anesthetic. It’s uncommon for a 4-year-old and his family to visit any pre-anesthesia clinic. You’ll take a history over the phone from the parents, explain the basics of anesthetic care, and answer any questions they have.

On the morning of surgery you’ll meet the parents and the child. It’s likely you’ll prescribe an oral midazolam premedication. You’ll set up your operating room with appropriate sized pediatric equipment, heeding the M-A-I-D-S mnemonic for Machine and Monitors-Airway-IV-Drugs-Suction.

What about a request from the mother and/or father to accompany the child into the operating room? This author advises against bringing parents into the O.R. Instead premedicate the child to minimize the emotional trauma of separation from the parent(s), and explain that the duration of time from when they hand you their child to when the gas mask is applied will only be a few minutes.

It’s common to induce anesthesia with the child in a sitting position. The one most important monitor you can place prior to induction is the pulse oximeter. Once unconsciousness is attained, the child is laid supine and a pretracheal stethoscope, the ECG leads, and the blood pressure cuff are applied. If you’re not using a pretracheal stethoscope during mask inductions, let me recommend it to you. No other monitor gives you immediate information on the patency of the airway like the stethoscope does. You can remedy partial or total airway obstruction more promptly than if you wait for oxygen desaturation or end-tidal CO2 changes.

Most children have an easy airway and require no more than occasional positive airway pressure via the mask to keep spontaneous ventilation open. Young children scheduled for tonsillectomy sometimes carry the diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) based on a clinical history of snoring, noisy breathing, or daytime somnolence. It’s uncommon for these patients to have a formal sleep study to document OSA. OSA children may have more challenging airways and have an increased incidence of partial airway obstruction during inhalation induction.

In residency I was taught to supplement the potent volatile anesthetic (halothane in decades past) with 50-70% nitrous oxide. Because the blood:gas partition coefficient of sevoflurane is 0.65, comparable to nitrous oxide’s 0.45, anesthetic induction with sevoflurane alone is nearly as fast as sevoflurane-nitrous oxide. The addition of nitrous oxide to the induction mix is unnecessary, and using an FIO2 of 1.0 affords an extra cushion of oxygen reservoir if the airway is difficult or if the airway is lost.

How will you start the IV after induction? There are several options: 1) You can ask the surgeon or a nurse to start the IV. In my experience, neither surgeons nor O.R. nurses are as skilled in starting pediatric IV’s as an anesthesiologist is, so I don’t recommend this plan; 2) You can ask the surgeon or the O.R. nurse to hold the mask and manage the airway while you start the IV. This option is safe if the airway is easy and you trust the airway skills of the other individual; 3) You can stand at your normal anesthesia position, hold the mask over the patient’s airway with your left hand, and ask the nurse to bend the patient’s left arm back toward you. The nurse tourniquets the patient’s arm at the wrist, and with your right hand you perform a one-handed IV start in the back of the patient’s left hand; 4) The option I feel most comfortable with is to fit mask straps behind the patient’s head, and secure the mask in place with the four straps after the patient is fully anesthetized (when their eyes have returned to a conjugate gaze). While the straps hold the mask in place, you listen to the patient’s breathing via the pretracheal stethoscope to assure yourself that the airway is patent. Then move to the left-hand side of the table and start the IV in the child’s left arm. The typical length of time away from the airway should be less than one minute. If the child has no obvious veins, fit the automated blood pressure cuff (in stat mode) on top of the tourniquet on the upper arm. The BP cuff is a superior tourniquet and the inflated cuff makes it easier to find a suitable vein.

Once the IV is in place, proceed with intubating the patient. In community practice the surgical duration of tonsillectomies can be very short, so the choice of muscle relaxant is important. Succinylcholine carries a black box warning for non-emergent use in children, and should not be used for elective intubation. You can: 1) administer rocuronium and later reverse the paralysis with neostigmine plus atropine; 2) administer a dose of propofol, e.g. 2 mg/kg, which blunts airway reflexes enough to allow excellent intubating conditions in most patients; or 3) you can do perform two laryngoscopies, the first to inject 1 ml of 4% lidocaine from a laryngotracheal anesthesia (LTA) kit, and another 30 seconds later to place the endotracheal tube in the now-anesthetized trachea. Some anesthesiologist/surgeon teams prefer an LMA rather than an endotracheal tube. LMA use for tonsillectomy is not routine in our practice, but one advantage is that an LMA does not require paralysis for insertion.

What if you’re working alone and your patient develops acute oxygen desaturation with airway obstruction and/or laryngospasm during inhalation induction before any IV has been placed? What do you do?

If you anesthetize enough children you will have this experience, and it can be frightening. The immediate management is to inject succinylcholine 4 mg/kg plus atropine 0.02 mg/kg intramuscularly, usually into the deltoid. Then you do your best to improve mask ventilation using an oral airway or LMA if necessary. The oxygen saturation may dip below 90% for a short period of time while you wait for the onset of the intramuscular paralysis. Once muscle relaxation is achieved, ventilation should be successful and the oxygen saturation will climb to a safe level. The trachea can then be intubated, and an IV can be started following the intubation.

If such a desaturation occurs, should you cancel the case? It depends. I’d recommend cancelling the case if: 1) the duration of the oxygen saturation was so prolonged that you are worried about hypoxic brain damage; or 2) gastric contents are present in the airway and you are concerned with possible pulmonary aspiration.

Working pediatric cases alone is rewarding as well as stressful. Nothing in my practice brings me as much joy as walking into the waiting room following a pediatric case to inform parents their child is awake and safe. The parents are relieved, and watching the mother-child reunion minutes later in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit is a heart-warming experience.

Not all anesthesiologists will choose to do pediatric cases during their post-residency career. If you will be anesthetizing children alone in community practice, it’s a good idea toward the end of your anesthesia residency or fellowship to ask your pediatric anesthesia attending keep their hands off during induction, so you can hone your skills managing both the airway and IV. That way you’ll be ready and capable of inducing a child alone after you leave training.


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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