AN ANESTHESIA PATIENT QUESTION: “WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG TO WAKE UP AFTER ANESTHESIA?”

the anesthesia consultant

Physician anesthesiologist at Stanford at Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group
Richard Novak, MD is a Stanford physician board-certified in anesthesiology and internal medicine.Dr. Novak is an Adjunct Clinical Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University, the Medical Director at Waverley Surgery Center in Palo Alto, California, and a member of the Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group in Palo Alto, California.
email rjnov@yahoo.com
phone 650-465-5997

Patients sometimes say, “Why did it take me so long to wake up after anesthesia?” when they discussed their previous anesthetic history. They are fearful that something is wrong with them, and they will always have delayed awakenings.

 

Certain patients have consistent bad experiences from a past general anesthetic. A previous anesthetic left them somnolent all day after surgery, and/or they felt sleepy or ill for days after a previous surgery. They wonder if they are at increased risk for anesthesia, if something went wrong in their past anesthetics, and whether they can do about it.

Whenever a patient tells me they’ve been very sensitive to anesthesia in the past, they’re always right. The good news for patients is: you probably can do something to help yourself in the future.

The most valuable thing you can do is obtain a copy of your previous anesthetic record and Post Anesthesia Recovery Room records from a surgery in which you had a perceived prolonged wake up. Save these documents and present them to future anesthesiologists. Inform future anesthesiologists regarding your history of prolonged sedation, and they can make adjustments in their drug delivery and techniques to attempt to avoid the same problems. Future anesthesiologists can administer lower doses of medications or fewer medications as they deem advisable.

The world’s foremost anesthesia textbook, Miller’s Anesthesia, does not have a specific section or chapter on the topic of avoiding prolonged wake ups. If you search the Internet or the PubMed website for a discussion of the topic “prolonged awakening from anesthesia,” you’ll find a shortage of useful information. Few papers have been published on the topic.

But every case of prolonged wake-up has its own story. General anesthetics and sedative drugs work by anesthetizing the brain and central nervous system. Based on thirty years as an anesthesiologist, the personal administration of 25,000+ anesthetics, and information from medical textbooks, what follows are lists of the primary factors which cause prolonged sedation after anesthesia.

Patient characteristics that correlate with prolonged awakening after anesthesia:

  1. Patients with a past history of slow awakening from anesthesia.
  2. Patients who are naïve to central nervous system depressants in their weekly life. That is, they never or very rarely drink alcohol, and never take sedating medications of any kind. Chronic alcohol consumption increases the dose of propofol required to induce loss of consciousness (Fassoulaki, A et al. Chronic alcoholism increases the induction dose of propofol in humans.Anesthesia and Analgesia. 1993;77(3):553-556). Conversely, patients who have zero or modest exposure to drugs like alcohol can require lower doses of anesthetic drugs.
  3. Patients who claim they are “sensitive to all medicines.”
  4. Elderly patients. As you age your ability to metabolize medications decreases. Older persons, especially those over the age of 70-80 years, require lower doses.
  5. Obese patients. Intravenous doses of medications are calculated according to a patient’s weight, but this number should be their lean body weight, not their weight including excess fat. Imagine two patients who are the same age and height, but one weighs 150 pounds and the second weighs 300 pounds. The second patient will need higher doses than the first, but will not require twice the dose. Markedly increasing the weight of fat cells does not mean the brain needs twice the dose of medications.
  6. Petite patients. What if an anesthesia provider administers his or her standard recipe for anesthesia without noticing that their current patient only weighs 88 pounds? Standard doses for a 150-pound person will be excessive in an 88-pound patient.
  7. Patients with decreased function of one or more of the major organ systems, that is the heart, lungs, liver, or kidney. Depending on the medication, one or more of these organ systems are required to clear the drug from the body. A patient with heart failure or decreased cardiac output will not be able to pump the drug efficiently throughout the body to the lungs, liver, or kidneys to clear the drug. A patient with decreased lung function/ventilation will not be able to exhale vapor anesthetics promptly. A patient with decreased liver function will not be able to clear certain drugs like narcotics from the body promptly. A patient with decreased kidney function will not be able to clear paralyzing drugs such as the muscle relaxant rocuronium from the body promptly.
  8. Patients with an abnormal brain. For example, patients with dementia, delirium, congenital developmental delay, or any organic brain syndrome may experience increased post-operative sedation due to exaggerated effects of the anesthetic medications on their brains.

Medical circumstances that contribute to prolonged patient awakening after anesthesia:

  1. The longer the surgery and anesthetic duration, the longer the wake up time. This is because the longer exposure to anesthetic drugs requires a longer time to exhale the vapor drugs or to clear and metabolize the intravenous drugs.
  2. The more complex the surgery, the longer the wake up time. Certain surgeries, for example a liver transplant, are so complex that an anesthesiologist often plans to keep the patient asleep in the intensive care unit after the surgery until the first post-operative day.
  3. An inexperienced anesthetist may resort to a standard recipe for every patient, and administer a more heavy-handed concoction of anesthetic drugs than are necessary for patients in our first list above.
  4. Painful surgery. Any surgery which hurts a great deal will require increased pain-relieving medications in the Post Anesthesia Recovery Room. Pain-relieving medications include narcotics such as morphine or fentanyl, which are sedating and sometimes nauseating. The less of these medicines you require, the more alert you’ll feel. Local anesthetic injections by the surgeon or a regional anesthesia nerve block by the anesthesiologist can decrease your need for narcotics, decrease post-operative pain, and decrease your risk of prolonged sedation after surgery.

You have little control over the drugs you’ll be given during surgery, but please inform and remind your anesthesiologist regarding any characteristics from the first list above. An honest discussion of your previous bad anesthetic experience(s), together with obtaining a copy of a previous anesthetic record(s), may grant you some control regarding how sedated you feel after future anesthetic experiences.

YOU are your own best advocate. Don’t be afraid to inform your anesthesiologist.

I refer you to a related column, HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE ME TO WAKE UP FROM GENERAL ANESTHESIA?

The most popular posts for laypeople on The Anesthesia Consultant include:

How Long Will It Take To Wake Up From General Anesthesia?

Why Did Take Me So Long To Wake From General Anesthesia?

Will I Have a Breathing Tube During Anesthesia?

What Are the Common Anesthesia Medications?

How Safe is Anesthesia in the 21st Century?

Will I Be Nauseated After General Anesthesia?

What Are the Anesthesia Risks For Children?

 

The most popular posts for anesthesia professionals on The Anesthesia Consultant  include:

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Should You Cancel Surgery For a Blood Pressure = 178/108?

Advice For Passing the Anesthesia Oral Board Exams

What Personal Characteristics are Necessary to Become a Successful Anesthesiologist?

 

 

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

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HOW TO WAKE UP PATIENTS PROMPTLY FOLLOWING GENERAL ANESTHETICS

the anesthesia consultant

Physician anesthesiologist at Stanford at Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group
Richard Novak, MD is a Stanford physician board-certified in anesthesiology and internal medicine.Dr. Novak is an Adjunct Clinical Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University, the Medical Director at Waverley Surgery Center in Palo Alto, California, and a member of the Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group in Palo Alto, California.
email rjnov@yahoo.com
phone 650-465-5997

Two patients arrive simultaneously in the recovery room following general endotracheal anesthetics. One patient is unresponsive and requires an oral airway to maintain adequate respiration. In the next bed, the second patient is awake, comfortable and conversant. How can this be? It occurs because different anesthetists practice differently. Some can wake up patients promptly, and some cannot.

 

Does it matter if a patient wakes up promptly after general anesthesia? It does. An awake, alert patient will have minimal airway or breathing problems. When it’s time to walk away from your patient in the recovery room, you’ll worry less if your patient is already talking to you and has minimal residual effects of general anesthesia. Whether the surgery was a radical neck dissection, a carotid endarterectomy, a laparotomy, or a facelift, it’s preferable to have your patient as awake as possible in the recovery room.

What can you do to assure your patients wake up promptly? A Pubmed search will give you little guidance. There’s a paucity of data or evidence in the medical literature on how to wake patients faster. You’ll find data on ultra-short acting drugs such as propofol and remifentanil. This data helps, but the skill of waking up a patient on demand is more an art than a science. Textbooks give you little advice. Anesthesiologist’s Manual of Surgical Procedures, (4th Edition, 2009), edited by Jaffe and Samuels, has an Appendix that lists Standard Adult Anesthetic Protocols, but there is little specific information on how to titrate the drugs to ensure a timely wakeup.

Based on 29 years of administering over 20,000 anesthetics, this is my advice on how to wake patients promptly from general anesthesia:

  1. Propofol. Use propofol for induction of anesthesia. You may or may not choose to infuse propofol during maintenance anesthesia (e.g. at a rate of 50 mcg/kg/min) but if you do, I recommend turning off the infusion at least 10 minutes before planned wakeup. This allows adequate time for the drug to redistribute and for serum propofol levels to decrease enough to avoid residual sleepiness.
  2. Sevoflurane. Sevoflurane is relatively insoluble and its effects wear off quickly when the drug is ventilated out of the lungs at the conclusion of surgery. I recommend a maintenance concentration of 1.5% inspired sevoflurane in most patients. I drop this concentration to 1% while the surgeon is applying the dressings. When the dressings are finished, I turn off the sevoflurane and continue ventilation to pump the sevoflurane out of the patient’s lungs and bloodstream. The expired concentration will usually drop to 0.2% within 5-10 minutes, a level at which most patients will open their eyes.
  3. Nitrous oxide. Unless there is a contraindication (e.g. laparoscopy or thoractomy) I recommend you use 50% nitrous oxide. It’s relatively insoluble, and adding nitrous oxide will permit you to utilize less sevoflurane. I recommend turning off nitrous oxide when the surgeon is applying the dressings at the end of the case, and turning the oxygen flow rate up to 10 liters/minute while maintaining ventilation to wash out the remaining nitrous oxide.
  4. Narcotics. Use narcotics sparingly and wisely. I see overzealous use of narcotics as a problem. Prior to inserting an endotracheal tube, it’s reasonable to administer 50 – 100 mcg of fentanyl to a healthy adult or 0 -50 mcg of fentanyl to a geriatric patient. A small dose serves to blunt the hemodynamic responses of tachycardia or hypertension associated with larynogoscopy and intubation. Bolusing 250 mcg of fentanyl prior to intubation is an unnecessary overdose. The use of ongoing doses of narcotics during an anesthetic depends on the amount of surgical stimulation and the anticipated amount of post-operative pain. You may administer intermittent increments of narcotic (I may give a 50-100 mcg dose of fentanyl every hour) but I recommend your final narcotic bolus be given no less than 30 minutes prior to the anticipated wakeup. Undesired high levels of narcotic at the conclusion of surgery contribute to oversedation and slow awakening. If your patient complains of pain at wakeup, further narcotic is titrated intravenously to control the pain. Your patient’s verbal responses are your best monitor regarding how much narcotic is needed. Your goal at wakeup should be to have adequate narcotic levels and effect, but no more narcotic than needed.
  5. Intra-tracheal lidocaine. I recommend spraying 4 ml of 4% lidocaine into the larynx and trachea at laryngoscopy prior to inserting the endotracheal tube. I can’t cite you any data, but it’s my impression that patients demonstrate less bucking on endotracheal tubes at awakening when lidocaine was sprayed into their tracheas. Less bucking enables you to decrease anesthetic levels further while the endotracheal tube is still in situ.
  6. Local anesthetics. Local anesthetics are your friends at the conclusion of surgery. If the surgeon is able to blunt post-operative pain with local anesthesia or if you are able to blunt post-operative pain with a neuroaxial block or a regional block, your patient will require zero or minimal intravenous narcotics, and your patient will wake up more quickly.
  7. Muscle relaxants. Use muscle relaxants sparingly. Nothing will slow a wakeup more than a patient in whom you cannot reverse the paralysis with a standard dose of neostigmine. This necessitates a delay in extubation until muscle strength returns. Muscle relaxation is necessary when you choose to insert an endotracheal tube at the beginning of an anesthetic, but many cases do not require paralysis for the duration of the surgery. When you must administer muscle relaxation throughout surgery, use a nerve stimulator and be careful not to abolish all twitch responses. Avoid long-acting paralyzing drugs such as pancuronium, as you will have difficulty reversing the paralysis if surgery concludes soon after you’ve administered a dose. Use rocuronium instead. Avoid administering a dose of rocuronium if you believe the surgery will conclude within the next 30 minutes—it may be difficult to reverse the paralysis, and this will delay wakeup.
  8. Laryngeal Mask Airway (LMA). When possible, substitute an LMA for an endotracheal tube. Wakeups will be smoother, muscle relaxants are unnecessary, and narcotic doses can be titrated with the aim of keeping the patient’s spontaneous respiratory rate between 15- 20 breaths per minute.
  9. Temperature monitoring and forced air warming. Cold is an anesthetic. Strive to keep your patient normothermic by using forced air warming. If your patient’s core temperature is low, wakeup will be delayed.

10. Consider remaining in the operating room after surgery until your patient is awake enough to respond to verbal commands. This is my practice, and I recommend it for safety reasons. In the operating room you have all your airway equipment, drugs, and suction at your fingertips. If an unexpected emergence event occurs, you’re prepared. If an unexpected emergence event occurs in an obtunded patient in the recovery room, your resuscitation equipment will not be as readily available. If your patient is responsive to verbal commands in the operating room, your patient will be wakeful on arrival in the recovery room.

Is this protocol a recipe? Yes, it is. You’ll have your own recipe, and your ingredients may vary from mine. You may choose to administer desflurane instead of sevoflurane. You may choose sufentanil, morphine, or meperidine instead of fentanyl. My advice still applies. Use as little narcotic as is necessary, and try not to administer intravenous narcotic during the last 30 minutes of surgery. If you use a remifentanil infusion, taper the infusion off early enough so the patient is wakeful at the conclusion of surgery.

The principles I’ve recommended here are time-tested and practical. Follow these guidelines and you’ll experience two heartwarming scenarios from time to time:  1) Patients in the recovery room will ask you, “You mean the surgery is done already? I can’t believe it,” and 2) Recovery room nurses will ask you, “Did this patient really have a general anesthetic?  She’s so awake!”

Your chest will swell with pride, and you’ll feel like an artist. Good luck.

 

 

The most popular posts for laypeople on The Anesthesia Consultant include:

How Long Will It Take To Wake Up From General Anesthesia?

Why Did Take Me So Long To Wake From General Anesthesia?

Will I Have a Breathing Tube During Anesthesia?

What Are the Common Anesthesia Medications?

How Safe is Anesthesia in the 21st Century?

Will I Be Nauseated After General Anesthesia?

What Are the Anesthesia Risks For Children?

 

The most popular posts for anesthesia professionals on The Anesthesia Consultant  include:

10 Trends for the Future of Anesthesia

Should You Cancel Anesthesia for a Potassium Level of 3.6?

12 Important Things to Know as You Near the End of Your Anesthesia Training

Should You Cancel Surgery For a Blood Pressure = 178/108?

Advice For Passing the Anesthesia Oral Board Exams

What Personal Characteristics are Necessary to Become a Successful Anesthesiologist?

 

 

 

 

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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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