DENTAL ANESTHESIA DEATHS . . . GENERAL ANESTHESIA FOR PEDIATRIC PATIENTS IN DENTAL OFFICES

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GENERAL ANESTHESIA FOR PEDIATRIC PATIENTS IN DENTAL OFFICES

 

CASE PRESENTATION:

A 5-year-old developmentally delayed autistic boy has multiple dental cavities. The dentist consults you, a physician anesthesiologist, to do sedation or anesthesia for dental restoration. What do you do?

DISCUSSION:

Children periodically die in dental offices due to complications of general anesthesia or intravenous sedation. Links to recent reports include the following:

3-year-old girl dies in San Ramon, CA after a dental procedure in July 2016.

A 14-month-old child, scheduled to have 2 cavities filled, dies in an Austin, TX dental office. The dentist and an anesthesiologist were both present.

A 6-year-old boy, scheduled to have teeth capped at a dental clinic, has anesthesia and dies after the breathing tube is removed.

Another 6-year-old boy, scheduled to have a tooth extracted by an oral surgeon, dies after the oral surgeon administers general anesthesia.

Pediatric dentists use a variety of tactics to keep a typical child calm during dental care. The child is encouraged to view a movie or cartoon while the dental hygienist or dentist works. The parent or parents are encouraged to sit alongside their child to provide emotional support. If a typical child requires a filling for a cavity, the dentist can utilize nitrous oxide via a nasal mask with or without local anesthesia inside the mouth.

These simple methods are not effective if the child has a developmental delay, autism, behavioral problems, or if the child is very young. Such cases sometimes present to a pediatric hospital for anesthetic care, but at times the child will be treated in a dental office. Possible anesthesia professionals include a physician anesthesiologist, a dental anesthesiologist, or an oral surgeon (who is trained in both surgery and anesthesia).

 

HOW WOULD A PHYSICIAN ANESTHESIOLOGIST ANESTHETIZE A CHILD IN A DENTAL OFFICE?

There are a variety of techniques an anesthesiologist might use to sedate or anesthetize a young child. The correct choice is usually the simplest technique that works. Alternative methods include intramuscular sedation, intravenous sedation, or potent inhaled anesthetics.

 

ANESTHESIA INDUCTION:

The first decision is how to begin the anesthetic on an uncooperative child. Options for anesthesia induction include:

  1. Intramuscular sedation. A typical recipe is the combination of 2 mg/kg of ketamine, 0.2 mg of midazolam, and .02 mg/kg of atropine. These three medications are drawn up in a single syringe and injected into either the deltoid muscle at the shoulder or into the muscle of the buttock. Ketamine is a general anesthetic drug that induces unconsciousness and relieves pain. Midazolam is a benzodiazepine which induces sleepiness and decreases anxiety. Ketamine can cause intense dreams which may be frightening. Midazolam is given because it minimizes ketamine dreams. Atropine offsets the increased oral secretions induced by ketamine. Within minutes after the injection of these three drugs, the child will become sleepy and unresponsive, and the anesthesiologist can take the child from the parent’s arms and bring the patient into the operating room. Most anesthesiologists will insert an intravenous catheter into the patient’s arm at this point, so any further doses of ketamine, midazolam, or propofol can be administered through the IV.
  2. Oral sedation with a dose of 0.5-0.75 mg/kg of oral midazolam syrup (maximum dose 20 mg). If the child will tolerate drinking the oral medication, the child will become sleepy within 15- 20 minutes. At this point, the anesthesiologist can take the patient away from the parent and proceed into the operating room, where either an intravenous anesthetic or an inhaled sevoflurane anesthetic can be initiated.

 

MONITORING THE PATIENT:

  1. The patient should have all the same monitors an anesthesiologist would use in a hospital or a surgery center. This includes a pulse oximeter, an ECG, a blood pressure cuff, a monitor of the exhaled end-tidal carbon dioxide, and the ability to monitor temperature.
  2. The anesthesiologist is the main monitor. He or she will be vigilant to all vital signs, and to the Airway-Breathing-Circulation of the patient.

 

MAINTENANCE OF ANESTHESIA:

  1. Regardless of which anesthetic regimen is used, oxygen will be administered. Room air includes only 21% oxygen. The anesthesiologist will administer 30-50% oxygen or more as needed to keep the patient’s oxygen saturation >90%.
  2. Intravenous sedation: This may include any combination of IV midazolam, ketamine, propofol, or a narcotic such as fentanyl.
  3. Local blocks by the dentist. The dentist may inject local anesthesia at the base of the involved tooth, near the superior alveolar nerve to block all sensation to the upper teeth, or near the inferior alveolar nerve to anesthetize all sensation to the lower jaw.
  4. Inhaled nitrous oxide. The simplest inhaled agent is nitrous oxide, which is inexpensive and rapid acting. Used alone, nitrous oxide is not potent enough to make a patient fall asleep. Nitrous oxide can be used as an adjunct to any of the other anesthetic drugs listed in this column.
  5. Potent inhalation anesthesia (sevoflurane). Most dental offices will not have a machine to administer sevoflurane. (Every hospital operating room has an anesthesia machine which delivers sevoflurane vapor.) Portable anesthesia machines fitted with a sevoflurane vaporizer are available. A colleague of mine who worked full time as a roving physician anesthesiologist to multiple pediatric dental offices leased such a machine and used it for years. The advantages of sevoflurane are: i) few intravenous drugs will be necessary if the anesthesiologist uses sevo, and ii) the onset and offset of sevo is very fast—as fast as nitrous oxide. The administration of sevoflurane usually requires the use of a breathing tube, inserted into the patient’s windpipe.
  6. The anesthesiologist will be present during the entire anesthetic, and will not leave.

 

AWAKENING FROM ANESTHESIA:

  1. With intramuscular and/or intravenous drugs, the wake-up is dependent on the time it takes for the administered drugs to wear off or redistribute out of the blood stream. This may take 30-60 minutes or more following the conclusion of the anesthetic.
  2. With inhaled agents such as sevoflurane and nitrous oxide, the wake-up is dependent on the patient exhaling the anesthetic gas. The majority of the inhaled anesthetic effect is gone within 20-30 minutes after the anesthetic is discontinued.
  3. The patient must be observed and monitored until he or she is alert enough to be discharged from the medical facility. This can be challenging if a series of patients are to be anesthetized in a dentist’s office. The medical staff must monitor the post-operative patient and also attend to the next patient’s anesthetic care. It’s imperative that the earlier patient is awake before the anesthesiologist turns his full attention to the next patient.

 

THE ANESTHETIC FOR OUR CASE PRESENTATION ABOVE:

  1. The anesthesiologist meets the parents and the patient, and explains the anesthetic options and procedures to the parent. The parent then consents.
  2. The anesthesiologist prepares the dental operating room with all the necessary equipment in the mnemonic M-A-I-D-S, which stands for Monitors and Machine, Airway equipment, Intravenous line, Drugs, and Suction.
  3. The anesthesiologist injects the syringe of ketamine, midazolam, and atropine into the child’s deltoid muscle. The child becomes sleepy and limp within one minute, and the anesthesiologist carries the child into the operating room.
  4. All the vital sign monitors are placed, and oxygen is administered via a nasal cannula.
  5. An IV is started in the patient’s arm.
  6. The dentist begins the surgery. He or she may inject local anesthesia as needed to block pain.
  7. Additional IV sedation is administered with propofol, ketamine, midazolam, or fentanyl as deemed necessary.
  8. When the surgery is nearing conclusion, the anesthesiologist will stop the administration of any further anesthesia. When the surgery ends, the anesthesiologist remains with the patient until the patient is awake. The patient may be taken to a separate recovery room, but that second room must have an oxygen saturation monitor and a health care professional to monitor the patient until discharge.

CHALLENGES OF DENTAL OFFICE ANESTHESIA:

  1. You’re do all the anesthesia work alone. If you have an airway problem or an acute emergency, you’ll have no other anesthesia professional to assist you. Your only helpers are the dentist and the dental assistant.
  2. The cases are difficult, otherwise you wouldn’t be there at all. Every one of the patients will have some challenging medical issue(s).
  3. You have no preop clinic, so you don’t know what you’re getting into until you meet the patient. I’d recommend you telephone the parents the evening before, so you can glean the past medical and surgical histories, and so you can explain the anesthetic procedure. Nonetheless, you can’t evaluate an airway over the phone, and on the day of surgery you may encounter more challenge than you are willing to undertake.
  4. It’s OK to cancel a case and recommend it be done in a hospital setting if you aren’t comfortable proceeding.
  5. The anesthesiologist usually has to bring his or her own drugs. The narcotics and controlled substances need to be purchased and accounted for by the anesthesiologist with strict narcotic logs to prove no narcotics are being diverted for personal use. All emergency resuscitation drugs need to be on site in the dental office or brought in by the anesthesiologist.
  6. If a sevoflurane vaporizer is utilized, dantrolene treatment for Malignant Hyperthermia must be immediately available.

 

BENEFITS OF DENTAL OFFICE SEDATION AND GENERAL ANESTHESIA:

  1. The parents of the patients are grateful. The parents know how difficult dental care on their awake child has been, and they’re thankful to have the procedures facilitated in a dental office.
  2. The dentist and their staff are grateful. They don’t have a method to safely sedate such patients, and are thankful that you do.
  3. Most cases are not paid for by health insurance, rather they are cash pay in advance.

 

HOW SAFE IS ANESTHESIA AND SEDATION IN A DENTAL OFFICE?

No database can answer the question at present. In 2013 the journal Paediatric Anesthesia published a paper entitled Trends in death associated with pediatric dental sedation and general anesthesia. (1) The paper reported on children who had died in the United States following receiving anesthesia for a dental procedure between1980-2011. Most deaths occurred among 2-5 year-olds, in an office setting, and with a general or pediatric dentist (not a physician anesthesiologist or dental anesthesiologist) as the anesthesia provider. In this latter group, 17 of 25 deaths were linked with a sedation anesthetic.

Another study analyzed closed claims databases of 17 malpractice claims of adverse anesthesia events in pediatric patients in dental offices from 1992 – 2007. (2) Thirteen cases involved sedation, 3 involved local anesthesia alone, and 1 involved general anesthesia. 53% of the claims involved patient death or permanent brain damage. In these claims the average patient age was 3.6 years. Six cases involved general dentists as the anesthesia provider, and 2 involved local anesthesia alone. The adverse event occurred in the dental office in 71% of the claims. Of the 13 claims involving sedation, only 1 claim involved the use of vital sign monitoring. The study concluded that very young patients (≤ 3-years-old) were at greatest risk during administration of sedative and/or local anesthetic agents. The study concluded that some practitioners were inadequately monitoring patients during sedation procedures. Adverse events had a high chance of occurring at the dental office where care is being provided.

If general anesthesia or deep sedation are performed in a dental office, the anesthetist must practice with the same vigilance and standards of care as they would in a hospital or surgery center. Either a physician anesthesiologist, an oral surgeon (acting as both the dental surgeon and the anesthetist), or a dental anesthesiologist may perform the anesthesia. There are no data at this time to affirm that a physician anesthesiologist is the safest practitioner in this setting.

Note: This column addressed the office practice of pediatric dental anesthesia as seen from a physician anesthesiologist’s point of view.

References:

(1) Lee HH et al, Trends in death associated with pediatric dental sedation and general anesthesia. Paediatr Anaesth. 2013 Aug;23(8):741-6.

(2) Chicka MC et al, Adverse events during pediatric dental anesthesia and sedation: a review of closed malpractice insurance claims. Pediatr Dent.2012 May-Jun;34(3):231-8.

 

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Published in September 2017:  The second edition of 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.

KIRKUS REVIEW

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.

Click on the image below to reach the Amazon link to The Doctor and Mr. Dylan:

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LEARN MORE ABOUT RICK NOVAK’S FICTION WRITING AT RICK NOVAK.COM BY CLICKING ON THE PICTURE BELOW:

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HOW DO YOU START A PEDIATRIC ANESTHETIC WITHOUT A SECOND ANESTHESIOLOGIST?

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.

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Published in September 2017:  The second edition of 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.

KIRKUS REVIEW

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.

Click on the image below to reach the Amazon link to The Doctor and Mr. Dylan:

41wlRoWITkL

Learn more about Rick Novak’s fiction writing at ricknovak.com by clicking on the picture below:  

DSC04882_edited

 

 

HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE ME TO WAKE UP FROM GENERAL ANESTHESIA?

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.
  1. HOW LONG YOUR SURGERY LASTS
  • 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.
  1. HOW HEALTHY, HOW OLD, AND HOW SLENDER YOU ARE
  • 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
  1. WHAT TYPE OF SURGERY YOU ARE HAVING
  • 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.
  1. THE SKILL LEVEL OF YOUR ANESTHETIST
  • 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.

EXAMPLE TIMELINE FOR A MORNING SURGERY

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.

TO REVIEW:

  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.

I refer you to a related column AN ANESTHESIA PATIENT QUESTION: WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG TO WAKE UP AFTER ANESTHESIA?”

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Published in September 2017:  The second edition of 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.

KIRKUS REVIEW

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.

Click on the image below to reach the Amazon link to The Doctor and Mr. Dylan:

41wlRoWITkL

 

LEARN MORE ABOUT RICK NOVAK’S FICTION WRITING AT RICK NOVAK.COM BY CLICKING ON THE PICTURE BELOW:

DSC04882_edited

 

 

DO YOU NEED AN ANESTHESIOLOGIST FOR ENDOSCOPY OF YOUR ESOPHAGUS, STOMACH, AND UPPER GASTROENTEROLOGIC TRACT?

Do you need an anesthesiologist for an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy?

In the aftermath of Joan Rivers’ tragic death following an upper endoscopy procedure at a New York outpatient surgery center, every news bureau is discussing this topic. Because I have no inside information on Joan Rivers’ medical care during her procedure, I will not judge her physicians, rather I will attempt to answer the specific question:

Do you need an anesthesiologist for an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy?

The answer to the question is:  it depends.  It depends on 1) your health, 2) the conscious sedation skills of your gastroenterologist, and 3) the facility you have your endoscopy at.

1)  YOUR HEALTH. The majority of endoscopies in the United States are performed under conscious sedation.  Conscious sedation is administered by a registered nurse, under specific orders from the gastroenterologist.  The typical drugs are Versed (midazolam) and fentanyl.  Versed is a benzodiazepine, or Valium-like medication, that is superb in reducing anxiety, sleepiness, and producing amnesia.  Fentanyl is a narcotic pain reliever, similar to a short-acting morphine.  The combination of these two types of medications renders a patient sleepy but awake.  Most patients can minimal or no recollection of the endoscopy procedure when under the influence of these two drugs.  I can speak from personal experience, as I had an endoscopy myself, with conscious sedation with Versed and fentanyl, and I remembered nothing of the procedure.

If you are a reasonably healthy adult, you should be fine having the procedure under conscious sedation.  Patients with high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, obesity, mild to moderate sleep apnea, advanced age, or stable cardiac disease are have conscious sedation for colonoscopies in America every day, without significant complications.

Certain patients are not good candidates for conscious sedation, and require an anesthesiologist for sedation or general anesthesia.  Included in this category are a) patients on large doses of chronic narcotics for chronic pain, who are tolerant to the fentanyl and are therefore difficult to sedate, b) certain patients with morbid obesity, c) certain patients with severe sleep apnea, and d) certain patients with severe heart or breathing problems.

2)  THE CONSCIOUS SEDATION SKILLS OF YOUR GASTROENTEROLOGIST.  Most gastroenterologists are comfortable directing registered nurses in the administration of conscious sedation drugs.  Some, however, are not.  These gastroenterologists will disclose this to their patients, and recommend that an anesthesiologist administer general anesthesia for the procedure.

3) THE FACILITY YOU HAVE YOUR ENDOSCOPY AT.  Most endoscopy facilities have nurses and gastroenterologists comfortable with conscious sedation.  Some do not.  The facility you are referred to may have a consistent policy of having an anesthesiologist administer general anesthesia with propofol for all endoscopies.  If this is true, they should disclose this to you, the patient, before you arrive for the procedure.  A facility which always utilizes general anesthesia means that you, the patient, will incur one extra physician bill for your procedure, from an anesthesiologist.

I refer you to an article from the New York Times, which summarizes the anesthesiologist-propofol-for-endoscopy phenomenon in the New York region in 2012:

One last point: If the drugs Versed and fentanyl are used, there exist specific and effective antidotes for each drug if the patient becomes oversedated. The antagonist for Versed is Romazicon (flumazenil), and the antagonist for fentanyl is Narcan (naloxone). If these drugs are injected promptly into the IV of an oversedated patient, the patient will wake up in seconds, before any oxygen deprivation affects the brain or heart.

Propofol, however, has no specific antagonist. Propofol only wears off as it is redistributed out of the blood stream into other tissues, and its blood level declines. A propofol overdose can cause obstruction of breathing, and/or depression of breathing, such that the blood oxygen level is insufficient for the brain and heart. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates that a Black Box warning be included in the packaging of every box of propofol. That warning states that propofol “should be administered only by persons trained in the administration of general anesthesia and not involved in the conduct of the surgical/diagnostic procedure.”

Anesthesiologists are experts at using propofol. I administer propofol to 99% of my patients who are undergoing general anesthesia for a surgical procedure. Anesthesiologists are experts at managing airways and breathing. Individuals who are not trained to administer general anesthesia should never administer propofol to a patient, in a hospital or in an outpatient surgery center.

I serve as the medical director of an outpatient surgery center in Palo Alto, California. We perform a variety of orthopedic, head and neck, plastic, ophthalmic, and general surgery procedures safely each year. In addition, our gastroenterologists perform thousands of endoscopies each year. I review the charts of the endoscopy patients as well as the surgical patients prior to the procedures, and in our center, approximately 99% of endoscopies can be safely performed under Versed and fentanyl conscious sedation, without the need for an anesthesiologist attending to the patient.

If you have an endoscopy, ask questions. Will you receive conscious sedation with drugs like Versed and fentanyl, or will an anesthesiology professional administer propofol? You deserve to know.

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Published in September 2017:  The second edition of 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.

KIRKUS REVIEW

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.

Click on the image below to reach the Amazon link to The Doctor and Mr. Dylan:

41wlRoWITkL

Learn more about Rick Novak’s fiction writing at ricknovak.com by clicking on the picture below:  

DSC04882_edited

 

 

HERBAL MEDICINES, SURGERY, AND ANESTHESIA

An otherwise healthy 50-year-old female patient takes three herb pills daily: gingko, kava, and ginseng. What do you do when this patient needs elective surgery for an ACL reconstruction two days from now? Do you cancel surgery and stop the herbs, or should you proceed?

My goal is to give you practical advice on how to proceed in the real world of anesthesia and surgical practice. We all know herbal medicines are out there. Do they matter? What is the evidence that herbal medicines affect surgical outcomes in an adverse way?

Many commonly used herbal medicines have side effects that affect drug metabolism, bleeding, and the central nervous system. In 2002 35% of Americans used complementary alternative medicine (CAM) therapies, and visits to CAM practitioners exceeded those to American primary care physicians (Tindle et al: Trends in use of complementary and alternative medicine by US adults: 1997-2002. Altern Ther Health Med 2005; 11:42). CAM practitioners include homeopathic medicine, meditation, art, music, or dance therapy, herbal medicines, dietary supplements, chiropractic manipulation, osteopathic medicine, massage, and acupuncture.

The finest review of herbal medicines and anesthesia is Chapter 33 in Miller’s Anesthesia, 7th Edition, 2009, authored by Ang-Lee, Yuan, and Moss. The authors write, “Many patients fail to volunteer information regarding herb and alternative medicine pills unless they are specifically asked about herbal medication use. Scientific knowledge in this area is still incomplete. There are no randomized, controlled trials that have evaluated the effects of prior herbal medicine use on the period immediately before, during and after surgery.” They go on to say, “preoperative use of herbal medicines has been associated with adverse perioperative events,” and “Because herbal medicines are classified as dietary supplements, they are not subject to preclinical animal studies, premarketing controlled clinical trials, or postmarketing surveillance. Under current law, the burden is shifted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prove products unsafe before they can be withdrawn from the market.”

The authors reviewed nine herbal medicines that have the greatest impact on perioperative patient care: echinacea, ephedra, garlic, Ginkgo biloba, ginseng, kava, saw palmetto, St. John’s wort, and valerian. These nine pills represent 50% of the herbal medicines sold in the United States.

The same authors published a paper entitled “Herbal Medicines and Perioperative Care.” (JAMA 2001; 286:208). The following table is reproduced from that journal article, and describes relevant effects, perioperative concerns, and recommendations for eight of the most common herbal medicines:

Echinacea
Boosts immunity. Allergic reactions, impairs immune suppressive drugs, can cause 
immune suppression when taken long-term, could impair wound 
healing. Discontinue as far in advance as possible, especially for transplant patients or those with liver dysfunction.

Ephedra (ma huang) Increases heart rate, increases blood pressure. Risk of heart attack, arrhythmias, stroke, interaction with other drugs, kidney stones. Discontinue at least 24 hours before surgery.

Garlic (ajo)
Prevents clotting. Risk of bleeding, especially when combined with other drugs that inhibit clotting. Discontinue at least 7 days before surgery.

Ginko (duck foot, maidenhair, silver apricot). Prevents clotting. Risk of bleeding, especially when combined with other drugs that inhibit clotting. Discontinue at least 36 hours before surgery.

Ginseng
Lowers blood glucose, inhibits clotting. Lowers blood-sugar levels. Increases risk of bleeding. Interferes with warfarin (an anti-clotting drug). Discontinue at least seven days before surgery.

Kava (kawa, awa, intoxicating pepper). Sedates, decreases anxiety. May increase sedative effects of anesthesia. Risks of addiction, tolerance and withdrawal unknown. Discontinue at least 24 hours before surgery.

St. John’s wort (amber, goatweed, Hypericum, klamatheweed). Inhibits re-uptake of neuro-transmitters (similar to Prozac). Alters metabolisms of other drugs such as cyclosporin (for transplant patients), warfarin, steroids, protease inhibitors (vs HIV). May interfere with many other drug.s Discontinue at least five days before surgery.

Valerian
Sedates Could increase effects of sedatives. Long-term use could increase the amount of anesthesia needed. Withdrawal symptoms resemble Valium addiction If possible, taper dose weeks before surgery. If not, continue use until surgery. Treat withdrawal symptoms with benzodiazepines.

In their chapter in Miller’s Anesthesia, Ang-Lee, Yuan, and Moss recommend that, “In general, herbal medicines should be discontinued preoperatively. When pharmacokinetic data for the active constituents in an herbal medication are available, the timeframe for preoperative discontinuation can be tailored. For other herbal medicines, 2 weeks is recommended. However, in clinical practice because many patients require nonelective surgery, are not evaluated until the day of surgery, or are noncompliant with instructions to discontinue herbal medications preoperatively, they may take herbal medicines until the day of surgery. In this situation, anesthesia can usually proceed safely at the discretion of the anesthesiologist, who should be familiar with commonly used herbal medicines to avoid or recognize and treat complications that may arise.”

The American Society of Anesthesiologists have no official standards or guidelines on the preoperative use of herbal medications. Public and professional educational information released by the American Society of Anesthesiologists suggest that herbals be discontinued at least 2 to 3 weeks before surgery.

To return to our original question, what do you do when your otherwise healthy 50-year-old female patient has been taking gingko, kava, and ginseng up to two days prior to her ACL reconstruction surgery? Gingko can cause increased bleeding, kava can cause increased sedation, and ginseng can cause decreased blood sugars and increased bleeding. You discuss the predicament with the patient’s surgeon. He’s not concerned that a possible increased risk of bleeding will affect this knee surgery. You decide the increased level of sedation and the possible decreased blood sugar risks are not prohibitive. (If you were worried, you could cut back slightly on the amount of central nervous system depressant drugs you utilize, and also run a 5% dextrose solution in the patient’s IV.)

An alternative choice would be to cancel the surgery for 2 weeks while the patient remains herb-free. The surgeon asks you, “Is there any data that postponing the surgery for two weeks will decrease the complication rate?”

You answer honestly and say, “There is no data. The American Society of Anesthesiologists suggests that herbals be discontinued at least 2 to 3 weeks before surgery.”

The surgeon says, “I want to do the case tomorrow. There’s no data compelling me to delay for two weeks. I accept whatever increased bleeding risk there may be. I’ve never had a patient have a bleeding complication from a knee surgery.”

You proceed with the surgery the next day. The patient does well, and has no complications.

Surveys estimate that:
a) 22% to 32% of patients undergoing surgery use herbal medications (Tsen LC, et al: Alternative medicine use in presurgical patients. Anesthesiology 2000; 93:148);
b) 90% of anesthesiologists do not routinely ask about herbal medicine use (McKenzie AG: Current management of patients taking herbal medicines: A survey of anaesthetic practice in the UK. Eur J Anaesthesiol 2005; 22:597); and
c) more than 70% of patients are not forthcoming about their herbal medicine use during routine preoperative assessment (Kaye AD, et al: Herbal medications: Current trends in anesthesiology practice—a hospital survey. J Clin Anesth 2000; 12:468).

The frequent use of herbal medicines in perioperative patients is real. How big a problem is it? Nobody knows. How frequently does one of your patients have an unexpected problem of increased bleeding, increased sedation, decreased blood sugar, unexpected cardiac arrhythmia or angina, or decreased immune function?

For an ACL reconstruction in a healthy patient, gingko, kava, and ginseng may pose little risk. For a craniotomy on a 70-year-old with coronary artery disease and diabetes, gingko, kava, and ginseng bay pose an increased risk, and warrant postponing the surgery for 2 weeks after holding the herbal medicines.

My advice is to take a careful history of herb medicine use from your patients, know (or look it up if you don’t remember) the potential side effects of each herbal medicine, and then on a case-by-case basis decide if it really matters if the surgery should be cancelled for 2 weeks.

That’s what doctors do. That’s what anesthesia consultants do.

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Published in September 2017:  The second edition of 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.

KIRKUS REVIEW

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.

Click on the image below to reach the Amazon link to The Doctor and Mr. Dylan:

41wlRoWITkL

Learn more about Rick Novak’s fiction writing at ricknovak.com by clicking on the picture below:  

DSC04882_edited

 

 

SUCCINYLCHOLINE: VITAL DRUG OR OBSOLETE DINOSAUR?

succinylcholine_chloride_10_med-21

A vial of succinylcholine

The muscle relaxant succinylcholine (sux) has the wonderful advantage of rendering a patient paralyzed in less than a minute, and the discouraging disadvantage of a long list of side effects that make the drug problematic.

I would never begin an anesthetic without succinylcholine being immediately available. No other muscle relaxant supplies as rapid an onset of action and as short a duration of action. An intravenous dose of 1 mg/kg of succinylcholine brings complete paralysis of the neuromuscular junction at 60 seconds, and recovery to 90% of muscle strength in 9 – 13 minutes. (Miller’s Anesthesia, 7th Edition, 2009, Chapter 29, Pharmacology of Muscle Relaxants and Their Antagonists). If a patient has an acute airway disaster on induction such as laryngospasm or pulmonary aspiration, no drug enables emergency endotracheal intubation as quickly as succinylcholine. That said, I never use succinylcholine unless I have to. The drug has too many side effects and rocuronium is often a better choice. For an elective anesthetic on a patient who has fasted and has an empty stomach, one almost never needs to use succinylcholine. If you do use sux, you are exposing your patient to the following side effects:

1. Myalgias. Your patient complains to you the following day, “Doc, I feel like I was run over by a truck.” Because the majority of anesthetics are currently done on outpatients, and because you do not personally interview these patients the following day, you won’t be aware of the degree of muscle pain you’ve induced by using the depolarizing relaxant succinylcholine. Published data quantitates the incidence of post-succinylcholine myalgia as varying from 0.2 % to 89% (Brodsky JB, Anesthesiology 1979; 51:259-61), but my clinical impression is that the number is closer to 89% than it is to 0.2%. Myalgias aren’t life-threatening, but if you ever converse with your patient one day after succinylcholine and they complain of severe muscle aches, you’ll wish you’d chosen another muscle relaxant if possible.
2. Risk of cardiac arrest in children. Succinylcholine carries a black box warning for use in children. Rare hyperkalemia and ventricular arrhythmias followed by cardiac arrest may occur in apparently healthy children who have an occult muscular dystrophy. The black box warning on succinylcholine recommends to “reserve use in children for emergency intubation or need to immediately secure the airway.”
3. Hyperkalemia, with an average increase of 0.5 mEq in potassium concentration after intravenous succinylcholine injection.
4. Cardiac arrest in patients with a history of severe trauma, neurologic disease or burns. There’s a risk of cardiac arrest with succinylcholine use in patients with severe burns, major trauma, stroke, prolonged immobility, multiple sclerosis, or Guillian-Barré syndrome, due to an up-regulation of acetylcholine. The increase in serum potassium normally seen with succinylcholine can be greatly increased in these populations, leading to ventricular arrhythmia and cardiac arrest. There is typically no risk using succinylcholine in the first 24 hours after the acute injury.
5. Cardiac arrhythmias. Both tachy and bradycardias can be seen following the injection of succinylcholine.
6. Increase in intraocular pressure, a hazard when the eye is open or traumatized.
7. Increase in intragastric pressure, a hazard if gastric motility is abnormal or the stomach is full.
8. Increase in intracranial pressure, a hazard with head injuries or intracerebral bleeds or tumors.
9. Malignant Hyperthermia (MH) risk. The incidence of MH is low. A Danish study reported one case per 4500 anesthetics when triggering agents are in use (Ording H, Dan Med Bull, 43:111-125), but succinylcholine is the only injectable drug which is a trigger for MH, and this is a disincentive to use the drug routinely.
10. Prolonged phase II blockade. Patients who have genetically abnormal plasma butyrylcholinesterase activity have the risk of a prolonged phase II succinylcholine block lasting up to six hours instead of the expected 9 – 13 minutes. If you’ve ever had to stay in the operating room or post-anesthesia recovery room for hours with a ventilated patient after their surgery ended because your patient incurred prolonged blockade from succinylcholine, you won’t forget it, and you’ll hope it never happens again.

What does a practicing anesthesiologist use instead of succinylcholine? Rocuronium.

A 0.6 mg/kg intubating dose of the non-depolarizing relaxant rocuronium has an onset time to maximum block of 1.7 minutes and a duration of 36 minutes. The onset time can be shortened by increasing the dose to a 1.2 mg/kg, a dose which has an onset time to maximum block of 0.9 minutes and a duration of 73 minutes. These durations can be shortened by reversing the rocuronium blockade as soon as one twitch is measured with a neuromuscular blockade monitor. Thus by using a larger dose of rocuronium, practitioners can have an onset of acceptable intubation conditions at 0.9 X 60 seconds = 54 seconds, compared to the 30 seconds noted with succinylcholine, without any of the 10 above-listed succinylcholine side effects. The duration of rocuronium when reversed by neostigmine/glycopyrrolate can be as short as 20 – 25 minutes, a time short enough to accommodate most brief surgical procedures.

Here is a list of surgical cases once thought to be indications for using succinylcholine, which I would argue are now better served by using a dose of rocuronium followed by early reversal with neostigmine/glycopyrrolate:

1) Brief procedures requiring intubation, such as bronchoscopy or tonsillectomy.
2) Procedures which require intubation plus intraoperative nerve monitoring, such as middle ear surgery.
3) Procedures requiring intubation of obese and morbidly obese patients who appear to have no risk factors for mask ventilation.
4) Procedures requiring full stomach precautions and cricoid pressure, in which the patient’s oxygenation status can tolerate 54 seconds of apnea prior to intubation. This includes emergency surgery and trauma patients. Miller’s Anesthesia (Chapter 72, Anesthesia for Trauma) discusses the induction of anesthesia and endotracheal intubation for emergency patients who are not NPO and may have full stomachs. Either succinylcholine or rocuronium can be used, with succinylcholine having the advantage of a quicker onset and the 1.2 mg/kg of rocuronium having the advantage of lacking the 10 side effects listed above. The fact that succinylcholine wears off in 9 – 13 minutes was not considered any safer in “cannot intubate, cannot ventilate” situations, because waiting 9 minutes for a return to spontaneous respirations would still be associated with severe hypoxia.

On the other hand, succinylcholine is the sole recommended muscle relaxant for:

1) Cesarean sections. Miller’s Anesthesia (Chapter 69, Anesthesia for Obstetrics) still recommends thiopental and succinylcholine for Cesarean sections that require general anesthesia, and I would be loath to disagree with our specialty’s Bible.
2) Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for depression. Miller’s Anesthesia (Chapter 79, Anesthesia at Remote Locations) recommends partial muscle relaxation during ECT, and recommends small doses of succinylcholine (0.5 mg/kg) to reduce the peripheral manifestations of the seizure and to prevent musculoskeletal trauma to the patient.
3) Urgent intubation or re-intubation in a patient when every second counts, e.g. a patient who is already hypoxic. A subset of this indication is the patient who is being mask-induced and becomes hypoxic and requires intramuscular succinylcholine injection.
4) Laryngospasm either during mask induction or post-extubation, in which the patient requires urgent paralysis to relax the vocal cords.

In conclusion, most indications for muscle relaxation are better handled by using the non-depolarizing drug rocuronium rather than succinylcholine. However, because of the four recommended uses for succinylcholine listed in the previous paragraph, none of us would ever practice anesthesia without a vial of succinylcholine in our drawer for immediate availability.

I try very, very hard to minimize my use of succinylcholine, and so should you. But to answer our original question… succinylcholine is still a vital drug and not a dinosaur at all.

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Published in September 2017:  The second edition of 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.

KIRKUS REVIEW

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.

Click on the image below to reach the Amazon link to The Doctor and Mr. Dylan:

41wlRoWITkL

Learn more about Rick Novak’s fiction writing at ricknovak.com by clicking on the picture below:  

DSC04882_edited

 

 

HOW TO SCREEN OUTPATIENTS PRIOR TO SURGERY

Over 70% of elective surgeries in the United States are ambulatory or outpatient surgeries, in which the patient goes home the same day as the procedure.

There are increasing numbers of surgical patients who are elderly, obese, or who have multiple medical problems. How do we decide which 70% of surgical candidates are appropriate for outpatient surgery, and which are not?

For the past 12 years I’ve been the Medical Director at a busy Ambulatory Surgery Center (ASC) in Palo Alto, California. ASC Medical Directors are perioperative physicians, responsible for the preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative management of ambulatory surgery patients. Our surgery center is freestanding, distanced one mile from Stanford University Hospital. The hospital-based technologies of laboratory testing, a blood bank, an ICU, arterial blood gas measurement, and full radiology diagnostics are not available on site. It’s important that patient selection for a freestanding surgery center is precise and safe.

The topic of Ambulatory Anesthesia is well reviewed in the textbook Miller’s Anesthesia, 7th Edition, 2009, Chapter 78, Ambulatory (Outpatient) Anesthesia. With the information in this chapter as a foundation, the following 7 points are guidelines I recommend in the preoperative consultation and selection of appropriate outpatient surgery patients:

  1. The most important factor in deciding if a surgical case is appropriate is not how many medical problems the patient has, but rather the magnitude of the surgical procedure. A patient may have morbid obesity, sleep apnea, and a past history of congestive heart failure, but still safely undergo a non-invasive procedure such as cataract surgery. Conversely, if the patient is healthy, but the scheduled surgery is an invasive procedure such as resection of a mass in the liver, that surgery needs to be done in a hospital.
  2. Because of #1, an ASC will schedule noninvasive procedures such as arthroscopies, head and neck procedures, eye surgeries, minor gynecology and general surgery procedures, gastroenterology endoscopies, plastic surgeries, and dental surgeries. What all these scheduled procedures have in common is that the surgeries (a) will not disrupt the postoperative physiology in a major way, and (b) will not cause excessive pain requires inpatient intravenous narcotics.
  3. One must screen patients preoperatively to identify individuals who have serious medical problems. Our facility uses a comprehensive preoperative telephone interview performed by a medical assistant, two days prior to surgery. The interview documents age, height, weight, Body Mass Index, complete review of systems, list of allergies, and prescription drug history. All information is entered in the patient’s medical record at that time.
  4. Each surgeon’s office assists in the preoperative screening. For all patients who have (a) age over 65, (b) obstructive sleep apnea, (c) cardiac disease or arrhythmia history, (d) significant lung disease, (e) shortness of breath or chest pain, (f) renal failure or hepatic failure, (g) insulin dependent diabetes, or (h) significant neurological abnormality, the surgery office is required to obtain medical clearance from the patient’s Primary Care Provider (PCP).    This PCP clearance note concludes with two questions: 1) Does the patient require any further diagnostic testing prior to the scheduled surgery? And 2) Does the patient require any further therapeutic measures prior to the scheduled surgery?
  5. For each patient identified with significant medical problems, the Medical Director must review the chart and the Primary Care Provider note, and confirm that the patient is an appropriate candidate for the outpatient surgery. The Medical Director may telephone the patient for a more detailed history if indicated. On rare occasions, the Medical Director may arrange to meet and examine the patient prior to the surgical date.
  6. Medical judgment is required, as some ASA III patients with significant comorbidities are candidates for trivial outpatient procedures such as gastroenterology endoscopy or removal of a neuroma from a finger, but are inappropriate candidates for a shoulder arthroscopy or any procedure that requires general endotracheal anesthesia.
  7. What about laboratory testing? Per Miller’s Anesthesia, 7th Edition, 2009, Chapter 78, few preoperative lab tests are indicated prior to most ambulatory surgery. We require a recent ECG for patients with a history of hypertension, cardiac disease, or for any patient over 65 years in age. If this ECG is not included with the Primary Care Provider consultation note, we perform the ECG on site in the preoperative area of our ASC, at no charge to the patient. All diabetic patients have a fasting glucose test done prior to surgery. No electrolytes, hematocrit, renal function tests, or hepatic tests are required on any patient unless that patient’s history indicates a specific reason to mandate those tests.

Utilizing this system, cancellations on the day of surgery are infrequent—well below 1% of the scheduled procedures. The expense of and inconvenience of an Anesthesia Preoperative Clinic are eliminated.

What sort of cases are not approved? Here are examples from my practice regarding patients/procedures who are/are not appropriate for surgery at a freestanding ambulatory surgery center:

  1. A 45-year-old patient with moderately severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is scheduled for a UPPP (uvulopalatalpharyngoplasty). DECISION: NOT APPROPRIATE. Reference: American Society of Anesthesiologist Practice Guidelines of the Perioperative Management of Patients with OSA (https://www.asahq.org/coveo.aspx?q=osa). For airway and palate surgery on an OSA patient, the patient is best observed in a medical facility post-surgery. For any surgery this painful in an OSA patient, the patient will require significant narcotics, which place him at risk for apnea and airway obstruction post-surgery.
  2. A morbidly obese male (Body Mass Index = 40) is scheduled for a shoulder arthroscopy and rotator cuff repair. DECISION: NOT APPROPRIATE. Obesity is not an automatic exclusion criterion for outpatient surgery. Whether to cancel the case or not depends on the nature of the surgery. A shoulder repair often requires significant postoperative narcotics. The intersection of morbid obesity and a painful surgery means it’s best to do the case in a hospital. One could argue that this patient could be done with an interscalene block for postoperative analgesia and then discharged home, but I don’t support this decision. If the block is difficult or ineffective, the anesthesiologist has a morbidly obese patient requiring significant doses of narcotics, and who is scheduled to be discharged home. If this surgery had been a knee arthroscopy and medial meniscectomy it could be an appropriate outpatient surgery, because meniscectomy patients have minimal pain postoperatively.
  3. An 18-year-old male with a positive family history of Malignant Hyperthermia is scheduled for a tympanoplasty. DECISION: APPROPRIATE. A trigger-free general total-intravenous anesthetic with propofol and remifenantil can be given just as safely in an ASC as in a hospital.
  4. A 50-year-old 70-kilogram male with a known difficult airway (ankylosing spondylitis) is scheduled for endoscopic sinus surgery. DECISION: APPROPRIATE. In our ASC, for safety reasons, we have advanced airway equipment including a video laryngoscope and a fiberoptic laryngoscope. If a patient needs an awake intubation, we are prepared to do this safely. This case would be scheduled with a second anesthesiologist available to assist the primary anesthesia attending in securing the airway.
  5. An 80-year-old woman with shortness of breath on exertion is scheduled for a bunionectomy. DECISION: NOT APPROPRIATE. Although foot surgery is not a major invasive procedure, any patient with shortness of breath is inappropriate for ASC surgery. The nature of the dyspnea needs to be determined and remedied prior to surgery or anesthesia of any sort.
  6. A 6-year-old female born without an ear is scheduled for a 9-hour ear graft and reconstruction. DECISION: APPROPRIATE. With modern general anesthetic techniques utilizing sevoflurane and propofol, patients awake promptly. Even after long anesthetics, if the surgery is not painful, patients are usually discharged in stable condition within 60-90 minutes.

There are infinite combinations of patient comorbidities and types of surgeries. The decision regarding which scheduled procedures are appropriate and which are not is both an art and a science. The role of an anesthesiologist/Medical Director as the perioperative physician making these decisions is invaluable.

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Published in September 2017:  The second edition of 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.

KIRKUS REVIEW

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.

Click on the image below to reach the Amazon link to The Doctor and Mr. Dylan:

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Learn more about Rick Novak’s fiction writing at ricknovak.com by clicking on the picture below:  

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