INEXPERIENCED DOCTORS, OVERCONFIDENT DOCTORS, AND YOU

THE JULY EFFECT AND THE NOVEMBER EFFECT

In American teaching hospitals, newly minted doctors begin internships each July. The term “July Effect” was coined to describe this shift change in academic hospitals each July, when the arrival of inexperienced doctors may increase the risks of medical care. In the United Kingdom, newly minted doctors begin their internships each August. In Britain, August has been referred to as the “Killing Season,” because of a perceived increased risk of medical complications, morbidity, and mortality with new doctors during their first month on duty.

Phillips found medication errors increased 10% during the month of July at American teaching hospitals, but not at neighboring community hospitals (1). In England, an Imperial College London study of records for 300,000 patients at 170 hospitals from 2000 and 2008 found death rates were 6% higher on the first Wednesday in August than on the previous Wednesday (2).

Multiple other studies have shown no change in mortality in American teaching hospitals in July, but the July Effect has real elements. There’s no way the competence of an academic hospital’s physician staff on July 1st can compare with that same hospital’s staff on June 30th. In the specialty of internal medicine, a residency is three years long (the first year of residency is also referred to as an internship). Each July 1st, third-year residents graduate and new medical school graduates replace one-third of the internal medicine team.

Imagine if a corporation like Google, Apple, Facebook, or General Electric dismissed one-third of their workforce once a year. There ‘s no way a company could be as productive after the change.

An anesthesia residency is three years long, preceded by one year of internship. One year after medical school, the same graduate who just completed twelve months of internship now reaches perhaps an even more difficult transition—the first months of anesthesia residency. Instead of writing histories, examining patients, making diagnoses, and prescribing medications as interns and internal medicine doctors do, anesthesia residents are rendering their patients unconscious, applying acute pharmacology, and inserting tubes and needles into patients in operating rooms at all hours of the day and night.

On July 1st of the first day of my anesthesia residency I reported at 0630 hours to the San Jose, California county hospital where I was assigned. I walked into the operating room and stared at the collection of anesthesia apparatus with complete bewilderment. I had no idea how the patient would even be connected to the anesthesia machine. As it turned out, the hoses that exited the machine weren’t installed yet, because I’d arrived before the anesthesia technicians who stocked the operating rooms. When it was time to begin the first anesthetic, the attending faculty anesthesiologist said to me, “I don’t think the operating room is a good place to learn in the beginning.” He injected sodium pentothal into the patient’s IV, placed the breathing tube into the patient’s windpipe, and hooked the patient up to the anesthesia machine. After ten minutes, he left to pursue other duties. I was alone, under-informed, and full of dread. I was on call that same night, and spent twenty-four hours in the hospital enduring case after case until six the next morning. When I left the hospital I had some rudimentary knowledge of how an anesthetic was done, but I’d failed to successfully place a breathing tube into any patient’s windpipe myself—a faculty member had to do every procedure for me. At the conclusion of the last anesthetic, I turned off the isoflurane (the predominant gas anesthetic at the time), switched off the ventilator, and waited, wondering why the patient wasn’t waking up. Many days later I learned that the isoflurane had no way to escape the patient’s lungs or brain unless I kept the ventilator on and continued ventilation of the patient’s lungs.

Anesthesia education today has improved since the 1980’s when I was a first-year resident, but the same themes persist. First-month trainees are very inexperienced. A supervising attending must teach them, mentor them, and lecture them—case by case—until each resident learns the basic skills.

Every month during anesthesia residency, the calendar turns to a new page and a new set of challenges. New rotations include specialty services in obstetrical anesthesia, pediatric anesthesia, trauma anesthesia, cardiac anesthesia, or regional block anesthesia. The most complex cases are saved for the second and third years of residency, but first-year residents will rotate through perhaps 80% of the array of cases during their first twelve months. During the earliest months of training, first-year anesthesia residents gain skills in the basic tasks of placing breathing tubes, intravenous lines, spinal blocks, epidural blocks, and arterial lines. They begin to feel confidence, and the anxiety of July fades.

It’s best if the jitters never fade away completely.

In my fifth year as an anesthesiologist, I was an attending at Stanford University, and I greeted one of my senior colleagues outside the locker room one morning. I asked him how he was doing, and he said, “I’m OK except for the customary pre-anesthesia anxiety.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Every morning I have to cope with the reality of what I do. I’m taking patients’ lives into my hands, and I can’t screw up.”

Think about that. Those workers at Google, Apple, Facebook, or General Electric have work pressures, but none of them has anxiety that they could harm a patient’s life forever.

Beyond the July Effect is the “November Effect.” The November Effect is the time when a physician feels confidence—even cockiness—and senses that they are well trained, experienced, in control, and can handle almost anything. The path to the November Effect is circuitous and the timing is variable. When I was an anesthesia resident, several of my colleagues never got there. One colleague succumbed to the stress of late night emergency anesthesia induction. He described to me the ordeal of trying to place a breathing tube urgently into a surgical patient who had a belly full of pizza and beer. I still remember the anesthesiologist’s face as he told the story. His eyes bugged out, his cheeks were pale, and he said, “I underestimated this specialty. I can’t do this for a whole career.” He quit. A second colleague had a near-disaster during the induction of anesthesia for an emergency Cesarean section. His anesthesia machine had no oxygen flow, so he blew into the mother’s breathing tube with his own mouth to keep the patient oxygenated. The patient and her baby survived, but his assessment was, “I can’t do this as a career. I need something less stressful.” He quit, too.

In November of my second year as an anesthesia resident I had 16 months of anesthesia training under my belt. I’d gained the swagger that comes with accomplishment, and lost some of the respect for the dangers of my specialty. I was on call in the hospital for obstetrics one night, and I tried to handle an emergency Cesarean section surgery at 1 a.m. by myself before my anesthesia faculty member arrived to assist me. I’ve chronicled the tale in a previous column (https://theanesthesiaconsultant.com/2012/07/15/an-anesthesia-anecdote-an-inept-anesthesia-provider-can-kill-a-patient-in-less-than-two-minutes). I was unable to place the patient’s breathing tube, she ran out of oxygen, and I thought I’d killed both her and her baby. My attending arrived in the nick of time, entered the operating room donned in his street clothes, and saved the day for all of us.

It was November, not July. I didn’t think I was a novice, but I was. It takes years, maybe a lifetime, to become an expert at anesthesia. Per Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything. For the specialty of anesthesia, even if one works 60 hours a week—which translates to about 3000 hours a year—it will take more than three years time to become an expert.

Even after those 10,000 hours, every patient presents a unique opportunity for events to stray from routine. Any case could go awry—there could be an unanticipated allergic reaction, an unexpected surgical bleed, an airway emergency or a mistaken diagnosis. Safe anesthesia practice demands a respectful level of anxiety at all times. Like a Boy Scout, an anesthesiologist needs to be prepared at all times.

Physician overconfidence is a current area of study. Meyer looked at 118 physicians who were each given 4 cases to diagnose (3). Two cases were easy and two were difficult, and the physicians were also asked how confident they were that they’d made the correct diagnosis. The physicians got 55% of the diagnoses correct for the two easier cases, and only 5% of the diagnoses correct for the more difficult cases. On a scale of 0-10, physicians rated their confidence as 7.2 on average for the easier cases, but as 6.4 on average for the more difficult cases. Physicians still had a very high level of confidence, even though their diagnostic accuracy dropped to a mere 5%. This was a striking statistic. Even physicians who are fully trained can be overconfident and can make misdiagnoses. Further data regarding physician overconfidence and how to correct it are welcomed.

An anesthesiologist’s work requires rapid, complex decisions that can be very susceptible to decision errors. Anesthesiologists work in a complex environment in the operating room, a setting where there is little room for mistakes. In acute care medicine, be it in the operating room, the emergency room, a battlefield, or an intensive care unit, the correct management of Airway-Breathing-Circulation is imperative to keep patients alive and well. Errors, be they caused by inexperience or overconfidence, can result in dire complications.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re a patient be wary of inexperienced doctors at a teaching hospital, especially in July and August. You might bring a friend or family member as a patient advocate to assure that more senior and experienced attending physicians are involved in your case. If you’re a patient and dealing with a confident doctor, be aware that confidence is not always well founded. Be skeptical of overconfidence and ask questions.

If you’re an anesthesiologist, look inward and assess whether you’re inexperienced or whether you tend toward overconfidence. Know yourself and better yourself. If you are inexperienced, then gain experience. If you tend to be overconfident, then humble yourself before the practice of medicine humbles you.

References:

(1) Phillips DP et al, A July Spike in Fatal Medication Errors: A Possible Effect of New Medical Residents; J Gen Intern Med, May 2010;25(8): 774–779.

(2) Will patients really die this week because of new NHS hospital doctors? The Guardian. Retrieved 28 September 2013.

(3) Meyer ND et al, Physician’s Diagnostic Accuracy, Confidence, and Resource Requests, JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(21):152-58.

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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:  

DSC04882_edited

 

 

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IS ANESTHESIA AN ART OR A SCIENCE?

Is the practice of anesthesia an art or a science? Is the practice of medicine an art or a science?

Over one hundred years ago the father of modern medicine, Dr. William Osler of Johns Hopkins Medical Center, made the following statements:

“Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability,” and “The practice of medicine is an art, based on science.”

In my career I’ve practiced three specialties at Stanford: internal medicine, emergency medicine, and anesthesiology. My career has bridged clinics, operating rooms, intensive care units, emergency rooms, and helicopter trauma medicine. I’ve practiced in four different decades.

With all respect to Dr. Osler’s legacy, what I’m witnessing in the clinical arena today tells me 21st century medical practice will be very much about science and very little about art.

A Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of science reads “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation.”

An Oxford English dictionary definition of art reads “the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance.”

Which of these definitions best fits your medical practice?

To me, the answer is clearly “science.”

I searched through all the secondary definitions of “art” in multiple dictionaries, and found very few definitions of “art” that apply to the practice of medicine. The closest fits were: art is a skill or special ability e.g. a skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice, from the Oxford English Dictionary; or art is skill acquired by experience, study, or observation e.g. the art of making friends, from the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Medical school training consists of four years of intensive study of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, microbiology, pathology, diseases, and the treatment for diseases. Core classes require extensive memorization and comprehension of complex scientific facts. In the last two years of medical school, clinical classes require the student to apply this complex science while evaluating individual human patients. New skills acquired at this clinical stage are those of interviewing, history taking, physical examination, interpretation of medical test results, differential diagnosis, and application of appropriate therapies. Mastering the doctor-patient interaction requires an education in empathy, effective listening, respect, and conversation about complex medical topics using parlance non-medical laypersons can comprehend.

Creative activities such as painting, music, literature, and dance are absent from the preceding paragraph. There is an “art” to making the correct diagnosis, and there is an “art” to applying empathy, effective listening, respect, and conversing about complex medical topics in language non-medical laypersons can comprehend. In this context, “art” connotes those secondary definitions, as in “a skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice.” A talented doctor with years of experience is a skilled artist of medical practice, just as World Series hero Madison Baumgartner is a skilled artist of pitching baseballs. A student entering a career in medicine in the 21st century must prepare herself or himself for the scientific rigors of the job. The opportunity to create is largely absent.

Painters, musicians, authors, and dancers create original art, some of it fantastic and some mundane. In medicine this type of creativity is rare, but it does exist. The medical laboratory researchers who cured smallpox and polio changed the world by creating their discoveries. The medical researchers seeking cures for Alzheimer’s disease, Ebola, or HIV are in a constant quest for the discovery of original ideas. Physician authors such as the Bay Area’s Abraham Verghese (Cutting for Stone) and Khaled Hosseini, (The Kite Runner) wrote outstanding literary works and are very creative. Many physicians express creative skills in their hobbies as musicians, artists, sculptors, actors, dancers, and writers. These physicians earn their living with their primary jobs in medicine, and expend their creative energies in these secondary outlets in their spare time.

A generation ago the ideal physician may have been depicted in the persona of Dr. Marcus Welby, a fictional television doctor. Dr. Welby was the Atticus Finch of medicine, a kind, smiling, gray-haired physician who spent each week’s sixty-minute show working on healing and treating one patient’s problems. His heroic skills were wisdom, intelligence, empathy, and a steadfast dedication to that one patient for the entire TV show each week. Although he was portrayed as a savvy, highly-schooled professional, Dr. Welby thrived by an almost god-like ability to feel his way through a difficult case and create a workable diagnosis and solution. In Dr. Welby’s office practice each patient posed a dilemma he had to solve during an hour-long television episode. In today’s office practice each patient’s complaints must be addressed in a twenty-minute period of time, after which the physician must enter all the information into a cumbersome version of a computerized Electronic Medical Record (EMR) before meeting the next patient for the next twenty-minute encounter.

In the 21st century operating room practice of anesthesiology, we typically have ten minutes to talk to a patient prior to rendering them unconscious. After anesthetic induction the patient is changed into a sleeping human who carries objective values for blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, temperature, and exhaled gas concentrations. The practice of anesthesiology becomes very much like a physiology experiment with the twin goals for the patient of a) guaranteeing sleep, while b) striving to maintain perfect vital signs. Where is the art? Is there art in varying techniques to accomplish these goals? Is it an “art” to anesthetize shoulder arthroscopy patient #1 with propofol and sevoflurane, and then to anesthetize shoulder arthroscopy patient #2 with propofol and an interscalene block? Rather than “art,” I’d call this using clinical judgment based on experience and scientific information.

Let me point out several current trends which are moving physician jobs further away from any creativity:

1) The organization of medicine into large corporate practices, with the variability of practice minimized. I recently attended a clinical lecture Stanford Medical Center in which the topic was “Variation is the Enemy of Good.”

2) The goal of organizing patient management into detailed and specific algorithms for physicians to follow, to insure they’re all treating the same medical problems the same way. In the Forbes article Medicine Is An Art, Not A Science: Medical Myth Or Reality?(July 12, 2014), author Robert Pearl MD, the CEO of the Permanente Medical Group, describes the value of protocols for the operating room, for treatment of stroke, and for prevention of heart attack, and concludes “We can predict that doctors who today refuse to follow the national recommendations for treating patients with strokes, heart attacks and a variety of other medical problems will be hard to convert. But we must change their behavior. The health of their patients and our nation depends on it.” Examples of such protocols in anesthesia practice are algorithms introduced for the management of total knee and hip replacement anesthesia, using a combination of neuroaxial block, regional nerve block such as adductor canal block, plus multimodal pain medication regimens (Gandhi and Viscusi, Multimodal Pain Management Techniques in Hip and Knee Arthroplasty, The New York School of Regional Anesthesia (www.nysora.com) Volume 13, J u l y 2009, pages 1-10).

3) A move to a “shift work” mentality in modern medical practice. A generation ago an MD would follow up on his patients until all the work was done for a given day, in addition to being night on-call for patients of his partners or colleagues once a week. In the past I worked for the largest HMO in California. The HMO culture promoted a 40-hour-per-week shift work mentality for physicians. When three p.m. arrived, many doctors signed off to the next doctor coming on duty to take over their job.

4) The promotion of non-physicians into the workforce to perform roles previously handled by MDs. Due to an inadequate supply of primary care doctors, the future of clinic medicine in large corporate medical practices will likely be legions of nurse practitioners and/or physician assistants supplying much of primary care.

5) Pursuit of artificial intelligence in medicine (AIM) as a goal. A recent Wall Street Journal article, IBM Crafts a Role for Artificial Intelligence in Medicine: Deal for Merge Healthcare is step toward training IBM’s Watson software to identify cancer, heart disease (August 11, 2015) described a significant advance in AIM technology. It’s not hard to imagine artificial intelligence computers making diagnoses and treatment decisions in the future.

Are these trends bad? Time will tell. The trends are driven by economics, and don’t expect to see them reverse. Variability will decrease and so will the feeling that medicine is an art.

Let’s hope future generations of physicians will still quote Osler’s claim that “the practice of medicine is an art, based on science.” May empathy, effective listening, respect, and conversation always be critical skills envied and mastered by all physicians.

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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

 

 

AIRWAY LAWSUITS

At weddings you’ll often hear a Bible verse that reads, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

A parallel verse in the bible of acute care medicine would read, “Emergencies are managed by airway, breathing, and circulation. But the greatest of these is airway.”

Every health care professional learns the mantra of airway-breathing-circulation. Anesthesiologists are the undisputed champions of airway management. This column is to alert you that avoiding even one airway disaster during your career is vital.

Following my first deposition in a medical-legal case years ago, I was descending in the elevator and a man in a suit asked me what I was doing in the building that day. I told him I’d just testified as an expert witness. He asked me what my specialty was, and I told him I was an anesthesiologist. The whistled through his teeth and smirked. “Anesthesia,” he said, “Huge settlements!”

I’ve consulted on many medical malpractice cases which involved death or brain damage, and airway mishaps were the most common etiology. It’s possible for death or brain damage to occur secondary to cardiac problems (e.g. shock due to heart attacks or hypovolemia), or breathing problems (e.g. acute bronchospasm or a tension pneumothorax), but most deaths or brain damage involved airway problems. Included are failed intubations of the trachea, cannot-intubate-cannot-ventilate situations, botched tracheostomies, inadvertent or premature extubations, aspiration of gastric contents into unprotected airways, or airways lost during sedation by non-anesthesia professionals.

Google the keywords “anesthesia malpractice settlement,” and you’ll find multiple high-profile anesthesia closed claims, most of them related to airway disasters. Examples from such a Google search include:

  1. The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin featured a multimillion-dollar verdict secured by the family of a woman who died after being improperly anesthetized for hip surgery. The anesthesiologist settled prior to trial, resulting in the family being awarded a total of $11.475 million for medical negligence. The 61-year-old mother and wife was hospitalized in Chicago for elective hip replacement surgery.  Because of a prior bad experience with the insertion of a breathing tube for general anesthesia, she requested a spinal anesthetic. Her anesthesiologist had trouble inserting a needle for the spinal anesthesia, so he went ahead with general anesthesia. The anesthesiologist was then unable, after several attempts, to insert the breathing tube. He planned to breathe for her through a mask and let her wake up to breathe on her own.  A second anesthesiologist came into the room and decided to attempt the intubation. He tried but was also unsuccessful. Finally, a third anesthesiologist came into the operating room and tried inserting the breathing tube several times. He too was unsuccessful. All of the attempts at inserting the tube caused the tissues in her airway to swell shut, blocking off oxygen and causing cardiac arrest. She suffered severe brain damage and died.
  2. $20 Million Verdict Reached in Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Against Anesthesiologist. A jury returned a $20 million verdict in an anesthesia medical malpractice lawsuit filed by the family of a woman who died during surgery when bile entered her lungs. The wrongful death lawsuit alleged that the anesthetists failed to identify that the victim had risk factors for breathing fluid into her lungs, despite the information being available in her medical record. The victim was preparing to receive exploratory surgery to determine the cause of severe stomach pains when she received the anesthesia. Once anesthetized, she began breathing bile into her lungs. She then later died. The jury awarded $20 million in favor of the plaintiff.
  3. A $35 million medical malpractice settlement was matched by only one other as the largest settlement for a malpractice case in Illinois, and the most ever paid by the County of Cook for a settlement of a personal injury case. The client, a 28-year-old woman, suffered severe brain damage from the deprivation of oxygen resulting from the failure of an anesthesiologist to properly secure an intubation tube. The client, immediately following the occurrence, was in a persistent vegetative state from which the likelihood of recovery was virtually nil. Miraculously, she regained much of her cognitive functioning, although still suffering from significant physiological deficits requiring attendant care for the rest of her life.
  4. Anesthesia Death Results in $2 Million Settlement: 36-Year-Old Man Dies From Anesthesia Mishap Following Elective Hernia Repair Surgery. The plaintiff’s decedent was a 36-year-old man who died secondary to respiratory complications following an elective hernia repair. During the pre-operative anesthesia evaluation, the defendant noted the patient had never been intubated and had required a tracheostomy for a previous surgery. The defendant decided to administer general endotracheal anesthesia with rapid sequence induction. The surgery itself was without incident. Following extubation, the patient began to have difficulty breathing. The patient desaturated. The surgeon was called back to the OR to perform  a tracheostomy, however, there was no improvement in the patient’s oxygenation and he continued to have asystole. Subsequently, he went into respiratory arrest and coded. The code and CPR were unsuccessful, and the patient was pronounced dead.

Per Miller’s Anesthesia, failure to secure a patent airway can result in hypoxic brain injury or death in only a few minutes. Analysis of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) Closed Claims Project database shows that the development of an airway emergency increases the odds of death or brain damage by 15-fold. Although the proportion of claims attributable to airway-related complications has decreased over the past thirty years since the adoption of pulse oximetry, end-tidal-CO2 monitoring, and the ASA Difficult Airway Algorithm, airway complications are still the second-most common cause of malpractice claims. (Miller’s Anesthesia, Chapter 55, Management of the Adult Airway, 2014).

In 2005, in the ASA-published Management of the Difficult Airway: A Closed Claims Analysis (Petersen GN, et al, Anesthesiology 2005; 103:33–9), the authors examined 179 claims for difficult airway management between 1985 and 1999. The timing of the difficult airway claims was: 67% upon induction, 15% during surgery, 12% at extubation, and 5% during recovery. Death or brain damage during induction of anesthesia decreased 35% in 1993–1999 compared with 1985–1992, but death or brain damage from difficult airway management during the maintenance, emergence, and recovery periods did not decrease during this second period. There is no denominator to compare with the numerator of the number of closed claims, so the prevalence of airway disasters was unknown.

Awake intubation is touted as the best strategy for elective management of the difficult airway for surgical patients. Fiberoptic scope intubation of the trachea in an awake, spontaneously ventilating patient is the gold standard for the management of the difficult airway. (Miller’s Anesthesia, Chapter 55, Management of the Adult Airway, 2014). Awake intubation is a useful tool to avert airway disaster on the oral anesthesiology board examination. Dr. Michael Champeau, one of my partners, has been an American Board of Anesthesiology Senior Examiner for over two decades. He tells me that oral board examinees choose awake intubation for nearly every difficult airway. This is wise–it’s hard to harm a patient who is awake and breathing on their own. Is the same strategy as easily implemented outside of the examination room? In actual clinical practice, an awake intubation may be a tougher sell. Awake intubations are time-consuming, require patience and understanding from the surgical team, and can be unpleasant to a patient who will be conscious until the endotracheal tube reaches the trachea–an event which can cause marked coughing, gagging, hypertension and tachycardia in an under-anesthetized person. As anesthesia providers, we perform hundreds of asleep intubations per year, and only a very small number of awake intubations. Inertia exists pushing anesthesia providers to go ahead and inject the propofol on most patients, rather than to take the time to topically anesthetize the airway and perform an awake intubation. But if you’ve ever lost the airway on induction and wound up with a “cannot intubate-cannot ventilate” patient, you’ll understand the wisdom in opting for an awake intubation on a difficult airway patient.

I refer you to Chapter 55 of Miller’s Anesthesia for a detailed treatise on the assessment and management of airways, which is beyond the scope of this column. In addition to the reading of Chapter 55, I offer the following clinical pearls based on my 30 years of practice and my experience at reviewing malpractice cases involving airway tragedies:

  1. Become skilled at assessing each patient’s airway prior to anesthesia induction. Pertinent information may be in the old chart or the patient’s oral history as well as in the physical examination. Red flags include: previous reports of difficulty passing a breathing tube, a previous tracheostomy scar, morbid obesity, a full beard, a receding mandible, inability to fully open the mouth, rigidity of the cervical spine, airway tumors or masses, or congenital airway deformities.
  2. Learn the ASA Difficult Algorithm and be prepared to follow it. (asahq.org/…/ASAHQ/…/standards-guidelines/practice-guidelines-for- management-of-the-difficult-airway.pdf‎).
  3. Become skilled with all critical airway skills, particularly mask ventilation, standard laryngoscopy, video laryngoscopy, placement of a laryngeal mask airway (LMA), fiberoptic intubation through an LMA, and awake fiberoptic laryngoscopy.
  4. Read the airway strategy recommended in the Appendix to Richard Jaffe’s Anesthesiologist’s Manual of Surgical Procedures, an approach which utilizes a cascade of the three critical skills of (A)standard laryngoscopy, (B)video laryngoscopy, and (C)fiberoptic intubation through an LMA. For a concise summary of this approach read my column Avoiding Airway Disasters in Anesthesia (https://theanesthesiaconsultant.com/2014/03/14/avoiding-airway-disasters-in-anesthesia).
  5. If you seriously ponder whether awake intubation is indicated, you probably should perform one. You don’t want to wind up with a hypoxic patient, anesthetized and paralyzed, who you can neither intubate nor ventilate.
  6. If you’re concerned about a difficult intubation or a difficult mask ventilation, get help before you begin the case. Enlist a second anesthesia provider to assist you with the induction/intubation.
  7. Take great care when you remove an airway tube on any patient with a difficult airway. Don’t extubate until vital signs are normal, the patient is awake, the patient opens their eyes, and the patient is demonstrating effective spontaneous respirations. An airway that was routine at the beginning of a surgery may be compromised at the end of surgery, due to head and neck edema, airway bleeding, or swollen airway structures, e.g. due to a long anesthetic with a prolonged time in Trendelenburg position.
  8. If you’re a non-anesthesia professional administering conscious sedation, never administer a general anesthetic sedative such as propofol. A combination of narcotic and benzodiazepines can be easily reversed by the antagonists naloxone and flumazenil if oversedation occurs. There is no reversal for propofol. Airway compromise from oversedation due to propofol must be managed by mask ventilation by an airway expert.

In its 1999 report, To Err Is Human:  Building a Safer Health System, the Institute of Medicine recognized anesthesiology as the only medical profession to reduce medical errors and increase patient safety. With the pulse oximeter, end-tidal-CO2 monitor, a myriad of airway devices, and the Difficult Airway Algorithm, the practice of anesthesia in the twenty-first century is safer than ever before. Let’s keep it that way.

Faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love.

Airway, breathing, and circulation. The greatest of these is airway. Your patient’s airway.

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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

 

 

THE PERIOPERATIVE SURGICAL HOME HAS EXISTED FOR YEARS

The American Society of Anesthesiologists is supporting an expansion of the role of anesthesiologists in the delivery of perioperative care in hospitals.

This proposed model is called the Perioperative Surgical Home. The American Society of Anesthesiologists defines the Perioperative Surgical Home as “a patient centered, innovative model of delivering health care during the entire patient surgical/procedural experience; from the time of the decision for surgery until the patient has recovered and returned to the care of his or her Patient Centered Medical Home or primary care provider.” (http://www.asahq.org/psh)

It’s a sound idea, and it resembles a model that’s existed for decades outside the hospital. In an outpatient surgery center the Perioperative Surgical Home concept is carried out by an anesthesiologist who is the Medical Director. I can speak to this, as I’ve been the Medical Director at a busy surgery center only minutes from Stanford University in downtown Palo Alto, for the past 12 years.

A surgery center Medical Director is responsible for:

  • All preoperative matters, including preoperative medical assessment of patients, scheduling of block times, surgical cases, anesthesia assignments, and creation of protocols,
  • All intraoperative matters, including quality issues, efficiency and turnover of cases, and the economics of running a profitable set of operating rooms, and
  • All postoperative matters, including overseeing Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) nursing care, post anesthesia medical decisions, and supervision of post-discharge follow up with patients.

All medical problems including complications, hospital transfers, and patient complaints, are routed through the anesthesiologist Medical Director.

A key difference between a surgery center and a hospital is scale. A busy hospital has dozens of operating rooms, hundreds of surgeries per day, and hundreds of inpatient beds. No one Medical Director can oversee all of this every day—it takes a team. At Stanford University Medical Center the anesthesia department is known as the Department of Anesthesia, Perioperative and Pain Medicine. The word “Perioperative” is appropriate, because anesthesia practice involves medical care before, during, and after surgery. A team of anesthesiologists is uniquely qualified to oversee preoperative assessment, intraoperative management, and post-operative pain control and medical care in the hospital setting, just as the solitary Medical Director does in a surgery center setting.

A second key difference between a surgery center and a hospital is that medical care is more complex in a hospital. Patients are sicker, invasive surgeries disturb physiology to a greater degree, and patients stay overnight after surgery, often with significant pain control or intensive care requirements. Again, a team of physicians from a Department of Anesthesia, Perioperative and Pain Medicine is best suited to supervise management of these problems.

The greatest hurdle to instituting the Perioperative Surgical Home model is pre-existing economic reality. In a hospital, other departments such as surgery, internal medicine, radiology, cardiology, pulmonology, and nursing are intimately involved in the perioperative management of surgery patients. Each of these departments has staff, a budget, income, and incentives related to maintaining their current role. Surgeons intake patients through their preoperative clinics, and may regard themselves as captains of the ship for all medical care on their own patients. Internal medicine doctors are called on for preoperative medical clearance on patients, and thus compete with anesthesia preoperative clinics. The internal medicine department includes hospitalists, inpatient doctors who may be involved in the post-operative management of inpatients. Invasive radiologists perform multiple non-invasive surgical procedures. Like their surgical colleagues, they may see themselves as decision makers for all medical care on their own patients. Cardiologists manage coronary care units and intensive care units in some hospitals, and may feel threatened by anesthesiologists intent on taking over their territory. Pulmonologists manage coronary care units and intensive care units in some hospitals, and may feel threatened by anesthesiologists intent on taking over their territory. Nurses are involved in all phases of perioperative care. If the chain of command among physicians changes, nurses must be willing partners of and participants with such change.

Why has the anesthesiology leadership role of a Medical Director evolved naturally at surgery centers while the Perioperative Surgical Home idea has to be sold to hospitals? At surgery centers the competing financial incentives of surgeons, internal medicine doctors, radiologists, pulmonologists, cardiologists, and nurses are minimal. In a freestanding surgery center, surgeons want to be able to depart for their offices following procedures, and welcome the skills that anesthesiologists bring to managing any medical complications that arise. Internal medicine doctors have no significant on-site role in surgery centers, although they are helpful office consultants for the anesthesiologist/Medical Director in assembling preoperative clearance for outpatients. Radiologists have no significant on-site role at most surgery centers—if they do perform invasive radiology procedures on outpatients, they too welcome the skills that anesthesiologists bring to managing medical complications that arise. Because there are no intensive care units at a surgery center, there is no role for pulmonary or cardiology specialists. Nursing leadership at a surgery center works hand-in-hand with the Medical Director to assure optimal nursing care of all patients.

Hospital administrators anticipate penetration of the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) model for payment of medical care by insurers. In the ACO model, a medical center receives a predetermined bundled payment for each surgical procedure. The hospital and all specialties caring for that patient negotiate what percentage of that ACO payment each will receive. A Perioperative Surgical Home may or may not simplify this task. You can bet anesthesiologists see the Perioperative Surgical Home as a means to increase their piece of the pie. Ideally the Perioperative Surgical Home will be a means to streamline medical care, decrease costs, and increase profit for the hospital and all departments. Anesthesiologists are rightly concerned that if they don’t take the lead in this process, some other specialty will.

Establishing the Perioperative Surgical Home is an excellent opportunity for anesthesiologists to facilitate patient care in multiple aspects of hospital medicine. To make this dream a reality across multiple medical centers, anesthesiology leadership must demonstrate excellent public relations skills to convince administrators and chairpeople of the multiple other specialties. I expect data on outcomes improvement or cost-control to be slow and inadequate to proactively provoke this change. It will take significant lobbying, convincing, and promoting. Change will require a leap of faith for a hospital, and such change will only be accomplished by anesthesia leadership that captures the confidence of the hospital CEO and the chairs of multiple other departments.

I’m impressed by the adoption of the Perioperative Surgical Home at the University of California at Irvine. I’ve listened to Zev Kain, MD, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative Medicine lecture, and I’ve met him personally. He’s the prototype of the charismatic, intelligent, and convincing physician needed to convince others that the Perioperative Surgical Home is the model of the future.(http://www.anesthesiology.uci.edu/clinical_surgicalhome.shtml)

I expect the transition to the Perioperative Surgical Home to occur more easily in university or HMO hospitals than in community hospitals. It will be easier for academic or HMO chairmen to assign new roles to salaried physicians than it will be for community hospitals to control the behavior of multiple private physicians.

Anesthesiologists were leaders in improving perioperative safety by the discovery and adoption of pulse oximetry and end-tidal carbon dioxide monitoring. Can anesthesiologists lead the way again by championing the adoption of Perioperative Surgical Home on a wide scale? Time will tell. Is the Perioperative Surgical Home an optimal way to take care of surgical patients before, during, and after surgeries? I believe it is, just as the Medical Director is a successful model of how an anesthesiologist can optimally lead an outpatient surgery center. Those lobbying for the Perioperative Surgical Home would be wise to examine the successful role of anesthesiologist Medical Directors who’ve led outpatient surgery centers for years. The stakes are high. As intraoperative care becomes safer and the role of nurse anesthesia in the United States threatens to expand, it’s imperative that physician anesthesiologists assert their expertise outside the operating room.

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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

 

 

HOW TO PREPARE TO SAFELY INDUCE GENERAL ANESTHESIA IN TWO MINUTES

You’re called to induce anesthesia for a patient being rushed to the operating room for emergency surgery. You arrive at the operating room only minutes before the patient is scheduled to arrive. How do you prepare to induce general anesthesia in two minutes?

Discussion: I recommend you use the mnemonic M-A-I-D-S as a checklist to prepare yourself and your equipment.

M stands for MACHINE and MONITORS. Check out your anesthesia machine first. Determine the oxygen sources are intact, and that the circle system is airtight when the pop-off valve is closed and your thumb occludes the patient end of the circle. Make sure the anesthesia vaporizer liquid anesthetic level is adequate. Check out your routine monitors next. Determine that the oximeter, end-tidal gas monitor, blood pressure cuff, and EKG monitors are turned on and ready.

A stands for AIRWAY equipment. Make sure an appropriate-sized anesthesia mask is attached to the circle system. Determine that your laryngoscope light is in working order. Prepare an appropriate sized endotracheal tube with a stylet inside. Have appropriate-sized oral airways and a laryngeal mask airway (LMA) available in case the airway is difficult. Make sure you have a stethoscope so you can examine the patient’s heart and lungs.

I stands for IV. Have an IV line prepared, and have the equipment to start an IV ready if the patient presents without an intravenous line acceptable for induction of anesthesia.

D stands for DRUGS. At the minimum you’ll need an induction agent (e.g. propofol or etomidate) and a muscle relaxant (succinylcholine or rocuronium), each loaded into a syringe. You’ll need narcotics and perhaps a dose of midazolam as well. Cardiovascular drugs to raise or lower blood pressure will be available in your drug drawer or Pyxis machine.

S stands for SUCTION. Never start an anesthetic without a working suction catheter at hand. You must be ready to suction vomit or blood out of the airway acutely if the need arises.

For pediatric patients the M-A-I-D-S mnemonic is followed, but in addition the size of your anesthesia equipment must be tailored to the age of the patient. Let’s say your patient is 4 years old. For M=MACHINE, you may need a smaller volume ventilation bag and hoses. For M=MONITORS, you’ll need a smaller blood pressure cuff, a smaller oximeter probe, and a precordial stethoscope if you use one. For A=AIRWAY, you’ll need smaller endotracheal tubes and airways. For I=IV, you’ll need smaller IV catheters and IV bags.

As a last-second check before a pediatric anesthetic, I recommend you pull out each drawer on your anesthesia machine, and then on your anesthesia cart, one at a time. Scan the contents of each drawer to ascertain whether you need any of the equipment there before you begin your anesthetic.

If you have any suspicion that the patient’s airway is going to be difficult, I recommend you ask to have a video laryngoscope and a fiberoptic laryngoscope brought into the operating room.

Once the patient arrives, utilize time to assess the situation as any doctor does. Take a quick history and perform a pertinent exam of the vital signs, airway, heart, lungs, and also a brief neuro check. Assist in positioning the patient on the operating room table, supervise the placement of routine monitors, and begin preoxygenating the patient. Induce anesthesia when you are ready.

Never be coerced to rush an anesthesia induction if your anesthesia setup or the patient’s physiology are not optimized. And always utilize the mnemonic M-A-I-D-S as an anesthesia checklist to confirm that your equipment is ready.

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

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

The first four chapters are available for free at Amazon. Read them and you’ll be hooked! To reach the Amazon webpage, click on the book image below:

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Stanford professor Dr. Nico Antone leaves the wife he hates and the job he loves to return to Hibbing, Minnesota where he spent his childhood. He believes his son’s best chance to get accepted into a prestigious college is to graduate at the top of his class in this remote Midwestern town. His son becomes a small town hero and academic star, while Dr. Antone befriends Bobby Dylan, a deranged anesthetist who renamed and reinvented himself as a younger version of the iconic rock legend who grew up in Hibbing. An operating room death rocks their world, and Dr. Antone’s family and his relationship to Mr. Dylan are forever changed.

Equal parts legal thriller and medical thriller, The Doctor and Mr. Dylan examines the dark side of relationships between a doctor and his wife, a father and his son, and a man and his best friend. Set in a rural Northern Minnesota world reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ Fargo, The Doctor and Mr. Dylan details scenes of family crises, operating room mishaps, and courtroom confrontation, and concludes in a final twist that will leave readers questioning what is of value in the world we live in.

REVIEWS:

5.0 out of 5 stars The Doctor and Mr Dylan, March 3, 2015
By
prabha venugopal (chicago, il USA) – See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
Gripping from the beginning to the end. Very well written, bringing to the forefront all the human emotions seen in an operating room spill over into real life. I cannot wait for Dr. Novak to wrote another book! As another physician in the same profession, my admiration for his book knows no limits.

Bang-Up Debut Novel, November 16, 2014

By Norm Goldman “Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures”

This part legal and medical thriller is structured with a mixed bag of situations involving relationships, jealousy, evil, lies, courtroom drama, operating room mishaps as well as moments that engender conflicting and unexpected outcomes. Noteworthy is that as the suspense builds readers will become eager to uncover the truth involving a mishap concerning Nico and a surgical procedure that has unanticipated ramifications.

This is a bang-up debut from a writer who understands timing and is able to deliver hairpin turns, particularly involving the courtroom drama,that you would expect from a book of this genre.

TwinCities.com PIONEER PRESS Entertainment

by Mary Ann Grossman, Entertainment Editor, St. Paul Pioneer Press mgrossman@pioneerpress.com, January 4, 2015

“The Doctor & Mr. Dylan” by Rick Novak (Pegasus Books, $17.50)

Dr. Nico Antone doesn’t hide the fact he hates his wife, but he says he didn’t kill her during an operation. The authorities think otherwise and his trial is the riveting suspense in this novel that is part medical thriller, part legal thriller, part exploration of family relationships.

Nico is an anesthesiologist (as is the author) who leaves his wife, their plush life in California and his job at Stanford to move to his hometown of Hibbing so their son, Johnny, has a better chance of getting into a prestigious college. Johnny hates the idea of moving to a small, cold town, but he’s popular from the first day in school. Nico doesn’t do so well. He’s envied by Bobby, an anesthetist who’s jealous of the better-educated Nico. But it’s hard to take Bobby seriously, since he thinks he’s the young Bob Dylan and lives in the house where Bobby Zimmerman grew up. To complicate matters, Nico is attracted to the mother of the young woman his son is dating. When the two teens get in trouble, Nico’s furious, rich wife comes to Minnesota and needs an emergency operation that puts her on Nico’s operating table.

Novak grew up in Hibbing, where he worked in the iron ore mines and played on the U.S. Junior Men’s Curling championship teams of 1974 and ’75. After graduating from Carleton College, he earned a medical degree at the University of Chicago and spent 30-plus years at Stanford Hospital, where he was an associate professor of anesthesia and Deputy Chief of the Anesthesia Department. His courtroom scenes are based on his experiences as an expert witness.

The Physician’s Late-Night Reading List

Two Pritzker alums pen captivating tales

By Brooke E. O’Neill, University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, editir, Medicine on the Midway Magazine

For most physicians, writing — patient notes, case histories, perhaps journal articles — is part of the job. But for anesthesiologist-novelist Rick Novak, MD’80, and neurosurgeon-memoirist Moris Senegor, MD’82, it’s a second career that consumes early morning hours long before they step into the OR.

Fans of John Grisham will find a kindred spirit in Novak, whose fast-paced medical thriller, The Doctor & Mr. Dylan (Pegasus Books, 2014), transports readers to rural Northern Minnesota, where an accomplished physician and a deranged anesthetist who thinks he’s rock legend Bob Dylan see their worlds collide in the most unexpected ways.

Delivering real-life twists and turns — and a love letter to the Bay Area — is Senegor’s Dogmeat: A Memoir of Love and Neurosurgery in San Francisco (Xlibris, 2014), a coming-of-age tale chronicling the author’s away rotation with renowned neurosurgeon Charles Wilson, MD, at the University of California, San Francisco. Brutally honest, it spares no details of a time Senegor, who also served as a resident under the University of Chicago’s famed neurosurgery chair Sean Mullan, MD, describes as “one of the biggest failures of my life.”

One a vividly imagined nail-biter, the other an intimate peek into the surgical suite, both books deliver an ample dose of intensity and drama.

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The Doctor and Mr. Dylan (Pegasus Books, 2014) by Rick Novak, MD’80

“I thought it was a novel way of killing someone,” said Rick Novak, deputy chief of anesthesiology at Stanford University, describing the imagined hospital death that was the genesis of his dark thriller The Doctor & Mr. Dylan. A huge Bob Dylan fan — the rock icon was born in Novak’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, where the story takes place — he then dreamed up a possible culprit: a psychotic anesthetist who thinks he’s Dylan.

From there, the words flowed. “I would write whenever I was with my laptop and had a free moment: in mornings, in evenings, in gaps between cases,” said Novak, who also blogs about anesthesia topics. “I don’t sleep much.”

After finishing the manuscript — one year to write, another to edit — came the challenge of finding a publisher. “In anesthesia, I’m an expert,” Novak said. “In the literary world, I’m an unknown.” After 207 responses of “no, thanks” or no answer at all, he landed an agent. Two months later, she informed him that Pegasus Books had bought his debut novel.

“I started crying,” Novak admits. “I have a third grader and at the time the big word the class was learning was ‘perseverance.’ That was it exactly.”

Dr. Joseph Andresen, Editor, Santa Clara County Medical Association Medical Bulletin, from the January/February 2015 issue:

BOOK REVIEW “THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN”

This past month, Dr. Rick Novak handed me a hardbound copy of his debut novel The Doctor and Mr. Dylan. Rick and I go way back. It was my first week of residency at Stanford when we first met. A newcomer to the operating room, all the smells and sounds were foreign to me despite my previous three years in the hospital as an internal medicine resident. Rick, a soft spoken Minnesotan at heart, in his second year of residency, took me under his wing and guided me through those first few bewildering months, sharing his experience and wisdom freely.

Fast-forward 30 years later. Dr. Rick Novak, a novel and mystery author? This was new to me as I sat down and opened the first page of The Doctor and Mr. Dylan. I have to admit that I didn’t know what to expect. Few books highlight a physician/anesthesiologist as a protagonist, and few books feature a SCCMA member as a physician/author. However, a medical-mystery theme novel wasn’t at the top of my must read list. With my 50-hour workweek, living and breathing medicine, imagining more emotional stress and drama was the furthest thing from my mind. However, three days later, as I turned the last page, and read the last few words. “life is a series of choices. I stuck my forefinger into the crook of the steering wheel, spun it hard to the left and …” This completed my 72-hour journey of and free moments I had, completely immersed in this story of life’s disappointments, human imperfections, and simple joys.

Rick, I can’t wait for your next book. Bravo!

Hibbingite writes twisted medical tale

HIBBING — Readers who are looking for a whodunit that will keep them up all night are in for a treat.

Hibbing native Rick Novak recently released his first book “The Doctor and Mr. Dylan,” a fiction set in Hibbing that merges anesthesia complications, a tumultuous marriage and the legend of Bob Dylan.

“The dialogue is sometimes funny, and there are lots of plot twists,” he said.

Novak said the book will not only entertain readers, but teach them about anesthesiology, Dylanology, the stressful race for elite college admission, and life on the Iron Range.

“The book is very conversational and streamlined,” he said. “I try to write as one would tell a story out loud.”

Novak said “The Doctor and Mr. Dylan” took him three years to perfect. He is currently working on his second book.

5.0 out of 5 stars I Sense We Have Another F.Scott Fitzgerald Emerging on the Literary Scene, December 1, 2014
By
Deann Brady (Sunnyvale, CA USA) – See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)
I found Rick Novak’s first novel, “The Doctor and Mr. Dylan,” a most exciting combination of biting sarcasm, mystery and daily activity spun with fresh new phrases that made me turn my ear back to listen to the literary cadence of his words again and again even though, on the other hand, I was anxious to turn the pages to see what would happen next. His brilliant handling of scenes is reminiscent of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A compelling read!Deany Brady, author of “An Appalachian Childhood”

By

allan mishra

This review is from: The Doctor and Mr. Dylan (Kindle Edition)

Just finished Dr. Novak’s delightful novel. I sincerely enjoyed his honest take about the pressures and values that exist within California’s Silicon Valley. He also brought the North Country of Minnesota to life with memorable characters and a twisting, addictive plot. Buried beneath the fun and funny story is a deeper message about how to best care for your kids, your relationships and yourself. Very well written and highly recommended.

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

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THE EBOLA VIRUS, ANESTHESIA, AND SURGERY

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

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

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

https://www.asahq.org/For-Members/Clinical-Information/Ebola-Information/Ebola-Guidelines-from-COH.aspx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.asahq.org/For-Members/Clinical-Information/Ebola-Information/Ebola-Guidelines-from-COH.aspx

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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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