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

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

GENERAL ANESTHESIA FOR DENTAL OFFICES CASE PRESENTATION: A 5-year-old developmentally delayed autistic boy has multiple dental cavities. The dentist consults you, a physician anesthesiologist, to do sedation or anesthesia for dental restoration. What do you do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

ANESTHESIA INDUCTION:

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

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

 

MONITORING THE PATIENT:

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

 

MAINTENANCE OF ANESTHESIA:

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

 

AWAKENING FROM ANESTHESIA:

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

 

THE ANESTHETIC FOR OUR CASE PRESENTATION ABOVE:

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

CHALLENGES OF DENTAL OFFICE ANESTHESIA:

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

 

BENEFITS OF DENTAL OFFICE SEDATION AND GENERAL ANESTHESIA:

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

 

HOW SAFE IS ANESTHESIA AND SEDATION IN A DENTAL OFFICE?

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

 

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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ANESTHESIA ERRORS: MALPRACTICE OR NOT?

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

If a patient suffers a bad outcome after anesthesia, did the anesthesiologist commit malpractice? If there was an anesthesia error, was it anesthesia malpractice?

medical-malpractice-anesthesia-errors-1-638

 

Not necessarily. There are risks to every anesthetic and every surgery, and if a patient sustains a complication, it may or may not be secondary to substandard anesthesia care.

Let’s look at the most common reasons for anesthesia malpractice claims. In a study by Ranum,(1) researchers examined a total of 607 closed claims from a single national malpractice insurance company over five years between 2007 and 2012. The most frequent anesthesia-related injuries reported were:

  1.   Teeth damage — 20.8 percent of the anesthesia medical malpractice claims
  2.   Death — 18.3 percent
  3.   Nerve damage — 13.5 percent
  4.   Organ damage — 12.7 percent
  5.   Pain — 10.9 percent
  6.   Cardiopulmonary arrest — 10.7 percent

When the minor claims for teeth damage are omitted, claims for death and cardiopulmonary arrest account for nearly one in four closed claims for anesthesiologists. This shows the severe nature of anesthesia bad outcomes.

How can we discern whether a bad patient outcome is a risk for a malpractice claim?

There are four elements to a medical malpractice claim. They are as follows (2):

  1. Duty to care for the patient. The anesthesiologist must have made a contract to care for the patient. The anesthesiologist meets the patient, takes a history, reviews the chart, does a pertinent physical exam, and discusses the options for anesthetic care. The anesthesiologist then obtains informed consent from the patient to carry out that plan, and the duty to care for the patient is established.
  2. Negligence occurs if the anesthesiologist failed in his or her duty to care, that is, he or she performed below the standard of care. The standard of care is defined as the level of care expected from a reasonably competent anesthesiologist. If a lawsuit is eventually filed, anesthesiology expert witnesses will testify for both the defense and the plaintiff as to what the standard of care was for this case. If the defendant anesthesiologist performed below the standard of care, they are vulnerable to losing the lawsuit.
  3. The plaintiff must prove the negligence was a proximate cause of the injury to the patient. If a lawsuit is eventually filed, expert witnesses will argue how and why the negligence was linked or was not linked to the adverse outcome.
  4. The injury or loss can be measured in monetary compensation to the plaintiff.

Let’s look at two fictional case studies to demonstrate how a bad outcome may or may not be related to anesthesia malpractice:

CASE ONE: A 70-year-old man is scheduled to have laparoscopic abdominal surgery for a partial colectomy to remove a cancer in his large intestine. Prior to his surgery he has a complete history and physical by his internal medicine doctor, and the results of that workup are in the medical chart. The patient medical history is positive for hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and obesity. His Body Mass Index, or BMI, is elevated at 32. His blood pressure is 140/85, and his physical exam is otherwise unremarkable. Prior to the surgery, the anesthesiologist requests clearance from a cardiologist. The cardiologist performs an exercise stress echocardiogram, which is read as normal. The anesthesiologist plans a general anesthetic, and obtains informed consent from the patient. During the informed consent, the anesthesiologist tells the patient that risks involving the heart, the lungs, or the brain are small but not zero. The patient accepts these risks.

The surgery and anesthesia proceed uneventfully. The patient is awakened from general anesthesia and taken to the Post Anesthesia Care Unit. The patient is drowsy and responsive, with a blood pressure of 100/60, a heart rate of 95, a respiratory rate of 16, a temperature of 36.0 Centigrade, and an oxygen saturation of 96% on a face mask delivering 50% oxygen. A Bair Hugger blanket is applied to warm the patient, and morphine sulfate 2 mg IV is given for complaint of abdominal pain.

Thirty minutes later, the patient develops acute shortness of breath, and his oxygen saturation drops to 75%. The anesthesiologist sees him and evaluates him. The cause of the shortness of breath and drop in oxygen level are unclear. The concentration of administered oxygen is increased to 100%, but the patient acutely becomes unresponsive. The anesthesiologist intubates the patient’s trachea, and begins ventilating him through the breathing tube. The patient is still unresponsive and has a cardiac arrest. Despite all Advanced Cardiac Life Support treatments, the patient dies.

An expert witness later reviews the chart, and finds the anesthesia management to be within the standard of care prior to, during, and after the surgery. There was no negligence that caused the cardiac arrest. Why did the patient die? The post-mortem exam, or autopsy, in a case like this could show a pulmonary embolism or a myocardial infarction, either of which can occur despite excellent anesthesia care. The patient was elderly, overweight, and hypertensive. Abdominal surgery and general anesthesia in this patient population are not without risk, even with optimal anesthetic care.

CASE TWO: A 55-year old female is scheduled for a facelift at a freestanding plastic surgery center operating room. Her history and physical examination are normal except that she is 5 feet tall and weighs 200 pounds, for a BMI=39. The anesthesiologist plans a general anesthetic, and obtains informed consent from the patient. After the induction of general anesthesia with propofol and rocuronium, the anesthesiologist is unable to place the endotracheal tube in the patient’s windpipe. He tries repeatedly in vain, and during this time the woman’s oxygen saturation drops to dangerous levels below 70%, and remains low for over five minutes. He eventually places the tube successfully. The surgery is cancelled, and the woman fails to wake up. She is transferred to a local hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit. A neurologic workup confirms that she has anoxic brain damage, or brain death.

This is a case where an overweight but otherwise healthy woman walked into a surgery center for an elective surgery, and emerged brain dead. Per the donor card in the patient’s wallet, the family agreed to donate the patient’s organs. Was this outcome due to malpractice? Yes. The anesthesiologist performed below the standard of care, because he failed to keep the patient oxygenated during the multiple attempts to place the breathing tube. An expert witness for the plaintiff testifies that a reasonably competent anesthesiologist would understand and follow the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) Difficult Airway Algorithm, and use alternate techniques to keep the patient oxygenated should the endotracheal tube placement be technically difficult. (These techniques include bag-mask ventilation, placement of a laryngeal mask airway, or use of a video laryngoscope). The failure to keep the airway open and the failure to keep the patient oxygenated led to the anoxic brain damage. An expert witness for the defense concurs with this opinion, and the anesthesiologist’s malpractice insurance company settles the case by paying the patient’s family.

Complications can occur before, during, or after anesthesia. The overwhelming majority of physician anesthesiologists manage their patients at or above the standard of care. When an adverse outcome occurs there may very well be no negligence or malpractice, and one should expect the legal system to award little or no malpractice award payments.

Does that mean that if the standards of care are adhered to, then there will be no malpractice payment following a bad outcome? Unfortunately, the data say no.

The ASA Closed Claims Project collects closed anesthesia malpractice claim results from the 1970s to the present. From 1975-79, 74% of anesthesia lawsuits resulted in payment. From 1990-99 this proportion declined to 58%. Much of this positive change may be explained by improvements in standards of care, i.e. the change to the routine monitoring of pulse oximetry and end-tidal carbon dioxide levels. In the 1970s, 51% of the lawsuits in which standards of care were met resulted in payment. In the 1990s only 40% of the lawsuits in which standards of care were met resulted in payment, but 40% is not zero.(3)

Other facts about medical malpractice lawsuits: About 93% of malpractice claims close without going to a trial. The average claim that goes to trial involves a 3 to 5 year process.(4) Of the cases that go to trial, 79% of verdicts are for the defendant physician.(5)

Medical errors do occur. Physicians are human. How common are medical errors in anesthesiology? It’s hard to quantitate. Medical errors that do not result in closed malpractice claims are not tabulated.

The issue of medical errors is currently a hot topic. A report published in the The British Medical Journal this week stated that if medical error was a disease, it would rank as the third leading cause of death in the United States, trailing only heart disease and cancer. Medical error was defined as an unintended act of either omission or commission, or one that does not achieve its intended outcome, the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended (an error of execution), the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim (an error of planning), or a deviation from the process of care that may or may not cause harm to the patient. The authors calculated a mean rate of death from medical error of 251 ,454 cases per year. The authors pointed out that death certificates in the U.S., used to compile national statistics, currently have no facility for acknowledging medical error. The ICD-10 coding system has limited ability to record or capture most types of medical error. The authors recommended that when a medical error resulted in death, both the physiological cause of the death and the related problem with delivery of care should be captured.(6)

Do anesthesiologists commit any of these medical errors? Undoubtedly. What does this mean if you are a patient scheduled for surgery and anesthesia? You should have every expectation your board-certified physician anesthesiologist will practice at or above the standard of care. The chances that you will become an adverse outcome statistic are small, but those chances are not zero.

See my column Do Anesthesiologists Have the Highest Malpractice Insurance Rates? to learn more about malpractice risks and anesthesiologists.

 

References:

  1. Ranum D, et al, Six anesthesia-related medical malpractice claim statistics. Analysis of patient injury based on anesthesiology closed claims data from a major malpractice insurer, Journal of Healthcare Risk Management Volume 34,Issue 2,pages 31–42,
  2. Tsushima WT, Nakano KK, Effective Medical Testifying: A Handbook for Physicians, 1998, Butterworth-Heinemann.
  3. Posner KL: Data Reveal Trends in Anesthesia Malpractice Payments. ASA Newsletter68(6): 7-8 & 14, 2004.
  4. Chesanow N, Malpractice: When to Settle a Suit and When to Fight. Medscape Business of Medicine, Sept 25, 2013.
  5. Jena AB,, Outcomes of Medical Malpractice Litigation Against US Physicians. Arch Intern Med.2012 Jun 11;172(11).
  6. Makary MA, Daniel M, Medical Error—the Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S., BMJ, 2016;353:i2139.

 

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:

41wlRoWITkL

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

DSC04882_edited

 

 

AIRWAY LAWSUITS

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

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.” The objective of this column is to help you avoid airway lawsuits.

 

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 (http://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.

 

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:

41wlRoWITkL

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

DSC04882_edited

 

 

SHOULD PHYSICIANS BE TESTED FOR DRUGS AND ALCOHOL?

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

An 60-year-old man has a heart attack in the middle of an emergency abdominal surgery at 11:00 pm and dies two hours later. Should the anesthesiologist submit to a drug test to seek out alcohol or drug ingestion that could have made her performance impaired?

Discussion: In the 2012 movie Flight, Denzel Washington stars as a commercial airline pilot addicted to alcohol and cocaine, who crashes his airplane while he is intoxicated. Analogies between aviation and anesthesia are commonplace. Both involve takeoffs, landings, and varying cruising times between the two. Both are generally quite safe, but on occasion disastrous accidents occur.

Pilots are required to submit to random drug testing and to testing following accidents. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandated drug and alcohol testing of safety-sensitive aviation employees in the Omnibus Transportation Employees Testing Act of 1991 to help protect the public and keep the skies safe.

Proposition 46 was a 2014 California legal initiative that proposed similar random drug testing of physicians and drug testing following critical sentinel events. Prop 46 was on the ballot for the November 2014 general election, and was soundly defeated. This proposition was noteworthy for bundling the drug-testing proposal with an additional proposal that would increase the maximum pain and suffering malpractice reward from $250,000 per case to $1,100,000 per case. Prop 46 was funded and supported by trial lawyers who sought to raise the ceiling on pain and suffering awards they could win in medical malpractice suits in California.

This malpractice award increase proposed by trial lawyers was viewed as a money grab, and was unpopular with voters. Because of concerns with increasing malpractice costs and health care costs, Prop 46 was defeated.

But what if Prop 46 had solely been about drug-testing physicians? Would it have a better chance of passing? I have no crystal ball, but my guess is that yes, it would have had a better chance of passing. According to the September 13, 2014 edition of the Los Angeles Times, the component of Prop 46 that required random drug and alcohol testing of doctors was popular among those surveyed: 68% of likely voters were in favor of it, while 25% were opposed.

In the August 1, 2014 issue of the New York Times, Adam Nagourney wrote “At a time when random drug testing is part of the job for pilots, train operators, police officers and firefighters—to name a few—one high-profile line of work has managed to remain exempt: doctors. That may be about to change. California would become the first state to require doctors to submit to random drug and alcohol tests under a measure to appear on the ballot this November. The proposal, which drew approval in early focus groups, was inserted as a sweetener in a broad initiative pushed by trial lawyers that also includes an unrelated measure to raise the state’s financial cap on medical malpractice awards for the first time since 1975, to $1.1 million from $250,000.”

The same New York Times article states, “Backers of Proposition 46 have begun putting out a steady stream of news releases about cases involving doctors with a history of drug and alcohol abuse…. ‘It’s crucial: I can’t believe we haven’t done this already,’ said Arthur L. Caplan, a medical ethicist at New York University. ‘But the idea that we wouldn’t be screening our surgeon, our anesthesiologist or our oncologist when we are going to screen our bus drivers and our airline pilots strikes me as ethically indefensible.’” In the same article, Daniel R. Levinson, the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, opines that there should be random drug testing across the medical profession, given the access in hospitals to controlled substances. “I don’t think that a carve-out when it comes to the medical field is sensible public policy,” he said. “No one should be above suspicion or below suspicion. I think we all need to play by similar rules.”

In a recent commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Dr. Julius Pham of Johns Hopkins wrote, “Patients and their family members have a right to be protected from impaired physicians…. Why is there such a difference among high-risk industries, which all pledge to keep the public safe? First, medicine is underregulated compared with other industries. The fiduciary patient-physician relationship is generally considered to be governed by the profession, not to be tampered with by regulatory bodies. While some state and individual health system regulations exist, they tend to be weak. Second, self-monitoring is the essence of medical professionalism. Peer review is the accepted modality to identify physicians with impaired performance. Most states now have a designated physician health program to detect and assist potentially impaired physicians before those physicians cause patients harm. However, these programs vary in their mandate, authority, reporting requirements, and activities. For instance, California has the largest number of US physicians, but its physician health program was recently discontinued. In states without proactive programs, it seems, by default, that patient harm has to occur before a review process occurs. In many cases, an overwhelming amount of data (i.e., harmed patients) must be available before a hospital or state initiates an investigation.”

Dr. Pham goes on to say, “What might a model of physician impairment regulation look like? First, mandatory physical examination, drug testing, or both may be considered before a medical staff appointment. This already occurs in some hospitals and has been successful in other industries. Second, a program of random alcohol-drug testing could be implemented. Random testing is required for most federal employees and has been successfully implemented in several medical settings. Random testing in the military has resulted in a decrease in illicit drug use. Third, a policy for routine drug-alcohol testing could be initiated for all physicians involved with a sentinel event leading to patient death. Fourth, a national hospital regulatory/accrediting body could establish these standards to maintain consistency across states.”

It’s estimated that approximately 10% to 15% of all healthcare professionals misuse drugs or alcohol at some time during their career. Although rates of substance abuse and dependence are no different than those in the general population, the stakes are higher because healthcare professionals are caregivers responsible for the general health and well-being of our population. It’s known that specialties such as anesthesiology, emergency medicine, and psychiatry have higher rates of drug abuse, possible due to the stress level associated with these specialties, the baseline personalities of these healthcare providers, and easy access to drugs in these specialties.

As physicians, do we have any compelling arguments to deflect the notion of MD’s being drug tested? Physicians decry the intrusion into their privacy. There is the ethical question whether the risk of patient injury by the 10% of physicians who use drugs and/or alcohol merits that the other 90% of physicians should be subjected to drug testing. There is also the specter of false-positive tests, which could wreak havoc with a doctor’s reputation. The details of any proposed drug and alcohol screening programs will be crucial, and any screening program will require careful consideration of a physician’s rights and privacy.

Two prominent hospitals—Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio—implemented random urine drug testing in their anesthesia residency teaching departments. A 2005 survey by the Cleveland Clinic estimated that 80 percent of anesthesiology residency training programs reported problems with drug-impaired doctors, and an additional 19 percent reported a death from overdose. “The problem is that we are exposed to, and we have the use of, very highly addictive and potent medications,” said Dr. Michael G. Fitzsimons, administrator for the substance abuse program of the department of anesthesia and critical care at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Dr. Gregory B. Collins, section head of the Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center, at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, said, “The first thing you often realize in these cases, it’s a kid dead in the bathroom with a needle in his arm.” Dr. Arnold Berry, an anesthesiologist and a member of the Committee on Occupational Health of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, said estimates of anesthesiologists who are addicted to medication range from only 1 to 2 percent. “The most recent study in training programs suggests the (addiction) rate has stayed the same for 20 years,” he said. Dr. Berry said the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) has decided to use other tactics to stave off addiction, rather than recommending urine testing. The ASA is implemented a “wellness initiative” to help anesthesiologists deal with stressors in their lives.

While doctors and organized medicine may delay the notion of drug testing for themselves, public opinion and lawmakers may lead the way toward making physicians “pee in the cup.” Citizens don’t want their airline pilots, firemen, and police officers under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and patients don’t want their doctors under the influence of alcohol or drugs either.

Our patients always come first. It will be an arduous task for MD’s to forever oppose a mandate for clean and sober physicians. Hugh Laurie was a fascinating character as the opiate-popping junkie doctor in “House,” but what patient wants the TV persona of Dr. Gregory House at their bedside?

 

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:

41wlRoWITkL

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

DSC04882_edited

 

 

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

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

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

Do you need an anesthesiologist for an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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:

41wlRoWITkL

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

DSC04882_edited

 

 

DR. NOVAK’S DEBUT NOVEL: THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN

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
Published in 2017:  The second edition of THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN, a legal mystery which blends anesthesiology and the legacy of Nobel laureate Bob Dylan.

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

41wlRoWITkL

Why does an anesthesiologist write a novel?

Anesthesiology is fascinating. We anesthetize patients for operations of every kind, from cardiac, brain, and abdominal surgeries to trauma and organ transplant surgeries. We anesthetize people of all ages from newborns to one-hundred-year-olds, relieve the pain of childbirth and chronic malignancies, and attend to all types of individuals from millionaires to the homeless. No one knows the breadth of human suffering and recovery better than a physician, and no physician sees a wider range of patients than an anesthesiologist.

The story of The Doctor and Mr. Dylan deals with an anesthesia complication, a crumbling marriage, a son’s quest for elite college admission, and a courtroom drama, all set in Bob Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota.

Stanford professor Dr. Nico Antone leaves the wife he hates and the Stanford 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’ FargoThe 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.

The opening pages to THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN follow:

CHAPTER 1) GOING, GOING, GONE

            first-degree murder n. an unlawful killing which is deliberate and premeditated (planned, after lying in wait, by poison or as part of a scheme)

My name is Dr. Nico Antone. I’m an anesthesiologist, and my job is to keep people alive. Nothing could inspire me to harm a patient. Alexandra Antone was my wife. Alexandra and I hadn’t lived together for nearly a year. I dreaded every encounter with the woman. I wished she would board a boat, sail off into the sunset, and never return. She needed an urgent appendectomy on a snowy winter morning in a small Minnesota town. Anesthetist options were limited.

Life is a series of choices. I chose to be my wife’s doctor. It was an opportunity to silence her, and I took it.

Before her surgery, Alexandra reclined awake on the operating room table. Her eyes were closed, and she was unaware I’d entered the room. She was dressed in a faded paisley surgical gown, and she looked like a spook—her hair flying out from a bouffant cap, her eye makeup smeared, and the creases on her forehead looking deeper than I’d ever seen them. I stood above her and felt an absurd distance from the whole situation.

Alexandra opened her eyes and moaned, “Oh, God. Can you people just get this surgery over with? I feel like crap. When is Nico going to get here?”

“I’m three feet away from you,” I said.

Alexandra’s face lit up at the sound of my voice. She craned her neck to look at me and said, “You’re here. For a change I’m glad to see you.”

I ground my teeth. My wife’s condescending tone never ceased to irritate me. I turned away from her and said, “Give me a few minutes to review your medical records.” She’d arrived at the Emergency Room with abdominal pain at 1 a.m., and an ultrasound confirmed that her appendix was inflamed. Other than an elevated white blood cell count, all her laboratory results were normal. She already had an intravenous line in place, and she’d received a dose of morphine in the Emergency Room.

“Are you in pain?” I said.

Her eyes were dull, narcotized—pinpoint pupils under drooping lids. “I like the morphine,” she said. “Give me more.”

Another command. For two decades she’d worked hard to control every aspect of my life. I ignored her request and said, “I need to go over a few things with you first. In a few minutes, I’ll give you the anesthetic through your IV. You won’t have any pain or awareness, and I’ll be here with you the whole time you’re asleep.”

“Perfect,” she oozed.

“When you wake up afterward, you’ll feel drowsy and reasonably comfortable. As the general anesthetic fades and you awaken more, you may feel pain at the surgical site. You can request more morphine, and the nurse in the recovery room will give it to you.”

“Yes. More morphine would be nice.”

“During the surgery you’ll have a breathing tube in your throat. I’ll take it out before you wake up, and you’ll likely have a sore throat after the surgery. About one patient out of ten is nauseated after anesthesia. These are the common risks. The chance of anything more serious going wrong with your heart, lungs or brain isn’t zero, but it’s very, very close to zero. Do you have any questions?”

“No,” she sighed. “I’m sure you are very good at doing this. You’ve always been good at making me fall asleep.”

I rolled my eyes at her feeble joke. I stood at the anesthesia workstation and reviewed my checklist. The anesthesia machine, monitors, airway equipment, and necessary drugs were set up and ready to go. I filled a 20 cc syringe with the sedative propofol and a second syringe with 40 mg of the paralyzing drug rocuronium.

“I’m going to let you breathe some oxygen now,” I said as I lowered the anesthesia mask over Alexandra’s face.

She said, “Remember, no matter how much you might hate me, Nico, I’m still the mother of your child.”

Enough talk. I wanted her gone. I took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and injected the anesthetic into her intravenous line. The milky whiteness of the propofol disappeared into the vein of her arm, and Alexandra Antone went to sleep for the last time.

CHAPTER 2) A PHARMACIST’S SON IN SOUTH DAKOTA

Eight months earlier

My cell phone pinged with a text message from my son Johnny. The text read:

911 call me

I was administering an anesthetic to a 41-year-old woman in an operating room at Stanford University, while a neurosurgeon worked to remove a meningioma tumor from her brain. I stood near my patient’s feet in an anesthesia cockpit surrounded by two ventilator hoses, three intravenous lines, and four computer monitor screens. Ten syringes loaded with ten different drugs lay on the table before me. My job was to control my patient’s breathing, blood pressure, and level of unconsciousness, but at that moment I could only stare at my cell phone as my heart rate climbed.

                                                                       911 call me

911? My son was in trouble, and I was stuck in surgery, unable to leave. I wanted to contact Johnny as soon as possible, but my patient was asleep, paralyzed, and helpless. Her life was my responsibility. I scanned the operating room monitors and confirmed that her vital signs were perfect. I had to make a decision: should I call him now, or attend to my anesthetic and call after the surgery was over? My patient was stable, and my son was in danger. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed his number. He picked up after the first ring….

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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.

 

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?

 

 

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

DSC04882_edited

 

 

AVOIDING AIRWAY DISASTERS IN 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

Every anesthesia practitioner dreads airway disasters.  Anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists are airway experts, but anesthesia professionals are often the only person in the operating room capable of keeping a patient alive if the patient’s airway is occluded or lost. Hypoxia from an airway disaster can lead to brain damage within minutes, so there is little time for human error.

A fundamental skill is the ability to assess a patient’s airway prior to anesthesia. One must assess whether the patient will pose: 1) difficult bag-mask ventilation, 2) difficult supraglottic/laryngeal mask airway placement, 3) difficult laryngoscopy, 4) difficult endotracheal intubation, or 5) difficult surgical airway.

Of critical importance is #1) above, that is, recognizing the patient who will present difficult mask ventilation. Conditions that make for difficult bag-mask ventilation are uncommon, and usually can be detected during physical examination. Despite the importance of expertise in endotracheal intubation, I teach residents and trainees that the most important airway skill is bag-mask ventilation. Every year I encounter several patients who present unanticipated difficult intubations. In each of these patients, I’m able to mask ventilate the patient to keep them oxygenated while I try various strategies and techniques to successfully place an endotracheal tube or a laryngeal mask airway.

Most anesthesia airway disasters aren’t merely difficult intubations, but scenarios that are classified as “can’t intubate, can’t ventilate.” In these “can’t intubate, can’t ventilate” situations, the anesthesiology professional has only minutes to restore oxygenation to the patient or else the risk of permanent brain damage is very real.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists Difficult Airway Algorithm is a guide for anesthesia practitioners regarding how proceed in airway management. The algorithm is detailed, complex, comprehensive, and defines the standard of care in any medical-legal battle concerning hypoxic brain damage due difficult airway clinical cases. The algorithm is so detailed, complex, and comprehensive that some would say it’s impossible to remember every step in the acute occurrence of an airway disaster.

A simplified approach has been touted.

Dr. C. Philip Larson, Professor Emeritus, Anesthesia and Neurosurgery, Stanford University, and Professor of Clinical Anesthesiology at UCLA, and previous Chairman of Anesthesiology at Stanford, was one of my teachers and mentors for both endotracheal intubation and fiberoptic intubation. In a Letter to the Editor of the Stanford Gas Pipeline in May, 2013, Dr. Larson wrote, “there is no scientific evidence that anesthesia is safer because of the ASA Difficult Airway Algorithm.  While an interesting educational document, I question the daily clinical value of this algorithm, even in its most recent form (Anesthesiology 2013; 118:251-70). The ASA Difficult Airway Algorithm was developed by committee and has all the problems that result when done that way.  It is complex, diffuse, multi-dimensional, and all-encompassing such that it is not an instrument that one can easily adopt and practice in the clinical setting.”

Dr. Larson recommends a system of Plans A-D, a system he published in Clinical Anesthesiology, editors Morgan GE, Mikhail MS, Murray MJ, Lange Medical publication, 4th edition, 2006, pp 104-5, and in Current Reviews in Clinical Anesthesiology (2009; 30:61-72), and also in the Appendix on airway management and intubation in the newest edition of Anesthesiologists Manual of Surgical Procedures by Richard Jaffe et al (Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 5th Edition, May 2014). An outline of the system is as follows:

A.  Plan A is direct laryngoscopy an intubation using a Miller or MacIntosh blade.

B.  If Plan A is unsuccessful, Plan B includes use of video laryngoscopy with a GlideScope or similar device.

C.  If Plan B is unsuccessful, Plan C is placement of an LMA with intubation through that LMA using a fiberoptic bronchoscope.

D.  “If Plans A-C fail,” Larson wrote in his Letter to the Editor of the Stanford Gas Pipeline in May, 2013, “one needs Plan D.  The first and perhaps the most prudent option is to cancel the proposed operation, terminate the anesthetic, and wake the patient up. The operation would be rescheduled for another day, and at that time an awake fiberoptic intubation technique would be used.  Alternatively, if the operation cannot be postponed, then the surgeon should be informed that a surgical airway (i.e.: tracheostomy) must be performed before the planned operation can commence.  To date, utilization of Plan D because of failure of Plans A-C has not occurred.”

Dr. Larson wrote that the airway skills in Plan A – C should be practiced regularly on patients with normal airways. I agree with Dr. Larson that in managing difficult airways, a practitioner needs a short list of procedural skills that he or she is expert at rather that a large array of procedures that they rarely use (such as the alternative intubation techniques using light wands or blind nasal techniques, or invasive airway procedures such as retrograde wires passed through the cricothyroid membrane or transtracheal jet ventilation through a catheter). It’s wise for anesthesiologists to regularly hone their techniques of video laryngoscopy (Plan B) and fiberoptic intubation via an LMA (Plan C) on patients with normal airways, to remain expert with these skills.

Regarding Plan B, an important advance is the availability of portable, disposable video laryngoscopes such as the Airtraq, a guided video intubation device. In my career I sometimes work in solo operating room suites distant from hospitals. In these settings, the operating room is usually not be stocked with an expensive video scope such as the GlideScope, the C-MAC, or the McGrath 5. I carry an Airtraq in my briefcase, and if the need for Plan B arises I am prepared to utilize video laryngoscopy at any anesthetizing location. I suggest the practice of carrying an Airtraq to any anesthesiologist who gives general anesthetics in remote locations.

Regarding emergency surgical rescue airway management, Dr. Larson recently published a Letter to the Editor in the American Society of Anesthesiologists Newsletter, February 2014, entitled, Ditch the Needle – Teach the Knife. In this letter, Dr. Larson wrote:

“in life-threatening airway obstruction, … an emergency cricothyrotomy is much quicker, easier, safer and more effective than any needle-based technique. I can state with confidence that there is no place in emergency airway management for needle-based attempts to establish ventilation. It should be deleted from the ASA Difficult Airway Algorithm. I have participated in seven cricothyrotomies in emergency airway situations, and all of the patients left the hospital without any neurological injury or complications from the cricothyrotomy. The risk-benefit ratio is markedly in favor the knife technique…. With a knife, or scissors, one cuts quickly either vertically or horizontally below the thyroid cartilage and there is the cricothyroid membrane or tracheal rings. The knife is inserted into the trachea and turned 90 degrees, and an airway is established. At that point, a small tube of any type can be inserted next to the knife. The knife technique is much safer because there is virtually nothing that one can harm by making an incision within two inches or less in the midline of the neck, and it can be performed in less than 30 seconds. In contrast, the needle is fraught with complications, including identifying the trachea, making certain that the needle is entirely in the trachea and does not move ( to avoid subcutaneous emphysema when an oxygen source is established), establishing a pressurized oxygen delivery system (which will take more than five minutes even in the most experienced circumstances), and avoiding causing a tension pneumothorax… I know of multiple cases of acute airway obstruction where the needle technique was attempted, and in all cases the patients died. I know of no such cases when a cricothyrotomy was used as the primary treatment of acute airway obstruction.”

A final note on the awake intubation of patients with a difficult airway: In hindsight in any difficult airway case, one often wishes they had secured an endotracheal tube prior to the induction of general anesthesia. The difficult problem is deciding prior to a case which patient has such a difficult airway that the induction of general anesthesia should be delayed until after intubation. In anesthesia oral board examinations it may be wise to say you would perform an awake intubation on a difficult airway patient rather than risk the “can’t intubate, can’t ventilate” scenario the examiner is probably poised to skewer you with. In medical malpractice lawsuits, plaintiff expert witnesses in anesthesia airway disaster cases often testify that a brain-dead patient’s life would have been saved if only the anesthesiologist had performed awake intubation rather than inducing general anesthesia first and then losing the airway. The key question is: how does one decide which patient needs an awake intubation? As an anesthesia practitioner, if you performed awake intubations on one out of 50 cases because you were worried about a difficult airway, you would delay operating rooms and surgeons multiple times per year because of your caution. You will not be popular if you do this. In my clinical practice and in the practice of the excellent Stanford anesthesiologists I work with, the prevalence of awake intubation is very low. I estimate most anesthesiologists perform between zero and two awake intubations per year. The most common indications include patients with severe ankylosing spondylitis of the cervical spine, congenital airway anomalies, and severe morbid obesity. Dr. Larson wrote in his Letter to the Editor of the Stanford Gas Pipeline in May, 2013, “I do anesthesia for most of the patients with complex head and neck tumors, and I find fewer and fewer indications for awake fiberoptic intubation. As long as the lungs can be ventilated by bag-mask or LMA, which is true for almost all sedated patients, Plan C is easier, quicker and safer than awake fiberoptic intubation both for the patient and the anesthesia provider.  In experienced hands, Plan C can be completed in less than 5 minutes, and one can become proficient by practicing in normal patients. I have done hundreds of Plan C’s, many under difficult circumstances, without a single failure or complication.  Obviously, no technique will encompass every conceivable airway problem, but mastering Plans A-D and awake oral and nasal fiberoptic intubation will meet the needs of anesthesia providers in almost all circumstances.”

May you never experience the  emotional trauma of an airway disaster. Become an expert in bag-mask ventilation, always have access to a video laryngoscope or an Airtraq, and consider  Dr. Larson’s  Plan A-D system, described in detail in the Appendix on airway management and intubation in the newest edition of Anesthesiologists Manual of Surgical Procedures by Richard Jaffe et al (Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 5th Edition, May 2014).

 

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:

41wlRoWITkL

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

DSC04882_edited

 

 

HOW RISKY IS A TONSILLECTOMY?

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

13-year-old Jahi McMath of Oakland, California suffered sudden bleeding from her nose and mouth and cardiac arrest following a December 9th 2013 tonsillectomy, a surgery intended to help treat her obstructive sleep apnea. After the bleeding she lapsed into a coma. Three days later she was declared brain-dead.

tonsillectomy-recovery-day-by-day-12

How could this happen?

Behind circumcision and ear tubes, tonsillectomy is the third most common surgical procedure performed on children in the United States. 530,000 tonsillectomies are performed children under the age of 15 each year. Tonsillectomy is not a minor procedure. It involves airway surgery, often in a small child, and often in a child with obstructive sleep apnea. The surgery involves a risk of bleeding into the airway. The published mortality associated with tonsillectomy ranges from 1:12,000 to 1:40,000. 

Between 1915 and the 1960’s, tonsillectomy was the most common surgery in the United States, done largely to treat chronic throat infections. After the 1970’s, the incidence of tonsillectomies dropped, as pediatricians realized the procedure had limited success in treating chronic throat infections. The number of tonsillectomies has increased again in the last thirty years, as a treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Currently 90 percent of tonsillectomies are performed to treat OSA. Only 1 – 4 % of children have OSA, but many of these children exhibit behavioral problems such as growth retardation, poor school performance, or daytime fatigue. The American Academy of Otolaryngology concluded that “a growing body of evidence indicates that tonsillectomy is an effective treatment for sleep apnea.”

Tonsillar and adenoid hypertrophy are the most common causes of sleep-disordered breathing in children. Obstructive sleep apnea is defined as a “disorder of breathing during sleep characterized by prolonged upper airway obstruction and/or intermittent complete obstruction that disrupts normal ventilation during sleep.” (Miller’s Anesthesia, 7th edition, 2009, Chapter 82).

In OSA patients, enlarged tonsils can exacerbate loud snoring, decrease oxygen levels, and cause obstruction to breathing. Removal of the tonsils can improve the diameter of the breathing passageway. Specific diagnosis of OSA can be made with an overnight sleep study (polysomnography), but applying this test to large populations of children is a significant expense. Currently only about 10 percent of otolaryngologists request a sleep study in children with sleep-disordered breathing prior to surgery (Laryngoscope 2006;116(6):956-958). In our surgical practice in Northern California, most pediatricians and otolaryngologists forego the preoperative overnight sleep study if the patient has symptoms of obstructed sleep, confirmed by a physical exam that reveals markedly enlarged tonsils.

Every tonsillectomy requires general anesthesia, and anesthesiologists become experts in the care of tonsillectomy patients. Prior to surgery the anesthesiologist will review the chart, interview the parent(s), and examine the child’s airway. Most children under the age of 10 will be anesthetized by breathing sevoflurane via an anesthesia mask, which is held by the anesthesiologist. Following the child’s loss of consciousness, the anesthesiologist will place an intravenous (IV) catheter in the child’s arm. The anesthesiologist then inserts a breathing tube into the child’s windpipe, and turns the operating table 90 degrees away so the surgeon has access to operate on the throat. The surgeon will move the breathing tube to the left and right sides of the mouth while he or she removes the right and left tonsils. (note: children older than the age of 10 will usually accept an awake placement of an IV by the anesthesiologist, and anesthetic induction is accomplished by the IV injection of sleep drugs including midazolam and propofol, rather than by breathing sevoflurane via an anesthesia mask).

The child remains asleep until the tonsils are removed, and all bleeding from the surgical site is controlled. The anesthesiologist then discontinues general anesthetic drugs and removes the breathing tube when the child awakens. Care is taken to assure that the airway is open and that breathing is adequate. Oxygen is administered until the child is alert. Tonsillectomy is painful, and intravenous opioid drugs such as fentanyl or morphine are commonly administered to relieve pain. The opioids depress respiration, and monitoring of oxygen levels and breathing is routinely done until the child leaves the surgical facility.

Most tonsillectomy patients have surgery as an outpatient and are discharged home within hours after surgery. Prior to the 1960’s patients were hospitalized overnight routinely post-tonsillectomy. In 1968 a case series of 40,000 outpatient tonsillectomies with no deaths was reported, and performance of tonsillectomy on an outpatient basis became routine after that time. (Miller’s Anesthesia, 7th edition, 2009, Chapter 33).

Published risk factors for postoperative complications after tonsillectomy include: (1) age younger than 3 years; (2) evidence of OSA; (3) other systemic disorders of the heart and lungs); (4) presence of airway abnormalities; (5) bleeding abnormities; and (6) living a long distance from an adequate health care facility, adverse weather conditions, or home conditions not consistent with close observation, cooperativeness, and ability to return quickly to the hospital. (Miller’s Anesthesia, 7th edition, 2009, Chapter 82).

The incidence of post-tonsillectomy bleeding increases with age. In a national audit of more than 33,000 tonsillectomies, hemorrhage rates were 1.9% in children younger than 5 years old, 3% in children 5 to 15 years old, and 4.9% in individuals older than 16. The return to the operating room rate was 0.8% in children younger than 5 years old, 0.8% in children 5 to 15 years old, and 1.2% in individuals older than 16. (Miller’s Anesthesia, 7th edition, 2009, Chapter 75).

Primary bleeds usually occur within 6 hours of surgery. Hemorrhage is usually from a venous or capillary bleed, rather than from an artery. Complications occur because of hypovolemia (massive blood loss), the risk of blood aspiration into the lungs, or difficulty with replacing the breathing tube should emergency resuscitation be necessary. Early blood loss can be difficult to diagnose, as the blood is swallowed and not seen. Signs suggesting hemorrhage are an unexplained increasing heart rate, excessive swallowing, pale skin color, restlessness, sweating, and swelling of the airway causing obstruction. Low blood pressure is a late feature. (Miller’s Anesthesia, 7th edition, 2009, Chapter 75).

What happened to 13-year-old Jahi McMath in Oakland following her tonsillectomy? We have no access to her medical records, and all we know is what was reported to the press. The following text was published in the 12/21/2013 Huffington Post:

After her daughter underwent a supposedly routine tonsillectomy and was moved to a recovery room, Nailah Winkfield began to fear something was going horribly wrong.

Jahi was sitting up in bed, her hospital gown bloody, and holding a pink cup full of blood.

“Is this normal?” Winkfield repeatedly asked nurses.

With her family and hospital staff trying to help and comfort her, Jahi kept bleeding profusely for the next few hours then went into cardiac arrest, her mother said.

Despite the family’s description of the surgery as routine, the hospital said in a memorandum presented to the court Friday that the procedure was a “complicated” one.

“Ms. McMath is dead and cannot be brought back to life,” the hospital said in the memo, adding: “Children’s is under no legal obligation to provide medical or other intervention for a deceased person.”

In an interview at Children’s Hospital Oakland on Thursday night, Winkfield described the nightmarish turn of events after her daughter underwent tonsil removal surgery to help with her sleep apnea.

She said that even before the surgery, her daughter had expressed fears that she wouldn’t wake up after the operation. To everyone’s relief, she appeared alert, was talking and even ate a Popsicle afterward.

But about a half-hour later, shortly after the girl was taken to the intensive care unit, she began bleeding from her mouth and nose despite efforts by hospital staff and her family.

While the bleeding continued, Jahi wrote her mother notes. In one, the girl asked to have her nose wiped because she felt it running. Her mother said she didn’t want to scare her daughter by saying it was blood.

Family members said there were containers of Jahi’s blood in the room, and hospital staff members were providing transfusions to counteract the blood loss.

“I don’t know what a tonsillectomy is supposed to look like after you have it, but that blood was un-normal for anything,” Winkfield said.

The family said hospital officials told them in a meeting Thursday that they want to take the girl off life support quickly.

“I just looked at the doctor to his face and I told him you better not touch her,” Winkfield recalled.

Despite the family’s description of the surgery as routine, the hospital said in a memorandum presented to the court Friday that the procedure was a “complicated” one.

 

Despite the precaution of hospitalizing Jahi McMath post-tonsillectomy, when her bleeding developed it seems the management of her Airway-Breathing-Circulation did not go well. I’ve attended to bleeding post-tonsillectomy patients, and it can be a harrowing experience. It can be an extreme challenge to see through the blood, past the swollen throat tissues post-surgery, and locate the opening to the windpipe so that one can insert the breathing tube needed to supply oxygen to the lungs. Assistance from a second anesthesiologist is often needed. The surgeon will be unable to treat or control severe bleeding until an airway tube is in place.  Difficult intubation and airway management can lead to decreased oxygen levels and ventilation, jeopardizing oxygen delivery to the brain and heart. If severe bleeding is unchecked and transfusion of blood cannot be applied swiftly, the resulting low blood pressure and shock can contribute to the lack of oxygen to a patient’s brain.

A bleeding tonsillectomy patient can be an anesthesiologist’s nightmare.

 

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

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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

 

 

WILL YOU HAVE AN ANESTHESIOLOGIST FOR YOUR WISDOM TEETH EXTRACTION SURGERY?

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

In the United States, will you have an anesthesiologist for your wisdom teeth extraction surgery?Probably not.

In the United States, oral surgeons perform most wisdom teeth extraction surgeries.  This is a very common surgery, with the operation performed on up to five million times in the United States each year. Most patients are healthy teenagers.  Wisdom teeth can be extracted under local anesthesia alone, but most patients and oral surgeons do not prefer this option. Oral surgeons perform wisdom teeth surgeries in their office operating rooms, and most oral surgeons manage the intravenous sedation anesthesia themselves, without the aid of an anesthesiologist.

Oral surgeons are trained in the airway management and general anesthesia skills necessary to accomplish this safely, and a nurse assists the oral surgeon in delivering sedative medications.  Oral surgeons must earn a license to perform general anesthesia in their office. To administer general anesthesia in an office, most oral surgeons complete at least three months of hospital-based anesthesia training. In most states, oral surgeons then undergo an in-office evaluation by a state dental-board-appointed examiner, who observes an actual surgical procedure during which general anesthesia is administered to a patient. It’s the examiner’s job to inspect all monitoring devices and emergency equipment, and to test the doctor and the surgical staff on anesthesia-related emergencies. If the examinee successfully completes the evaluation process, the state dental board issues the doctor a license to perform general anesthesia.  Note that even though the oral surgeon has a license to direct anesthesia, the sedating drugs he or she orders are often administered by a nurse who has no license or training in anesthesia.

In an oral surgeon’s office, general anesthesia for wisdom teeth extraction typically includes intravenous sedation with several drugs:  a benzodiazepine such as midazolam, a narcotic such as fentanyl or Demerol, and a hypnotic drug such as propofol, ketamine, and/or methohexital.  After the patient is asleep, the oral surgeon injects a local anesthetic such as lidocaine to block the superior and inferior alveolar nerves.  These local anesthetic injections render the mouth numb, so the surgeon can operate without inflicting pain.  Typically, no breathing tube is used and no potent anesthetic vapor such as sevoflurane is used.  The oral surgeon may supplement intravenous sedation with inhaled nitrous oxide.

The oral surgeon has all emergency airway equipment, breathing tubes, and emergency drugs available, but these are rarely used.

The safety record for oral surgeons using these methods seems excellent.  My review of the National Institutes of Health website PubMed reveals very few instances of death related to wisdom teeth extraction.  Recent reports include one patient who died in Germany due to a heart attack after his surgery (Kunkel M, J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 2007 Sep;65(9):1700-6.  Severe third molar complications including death-lessons from 100 cases requiring hospitalization).  A second patient died in Japan because of a major bleed in his throat occluding trachea, one day after his surgery (Kawashima W, Forensic Sci Int. 2013 May 10;228(1-3):e47-9. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2013.02.019. Epub 2013 Mar 26. Asphyxial death related to postextraction hematoma in an elderly man).

Most oral surgeons have no interest in publishing their mishaps or complications, so the medical literature is not the place to search for data on oral surgery deaths. Deaths that occur during or after wisdom teeth extraction are sometimes reported in the lay press.  In April 2013, a 24-year-old healthy man began coughing during his wisdom teeth extraction in Southern California, and went into cardiac arrest.  He was transferred to a hospital, where he died several days later.

In 2011, a Baltimore-area teen died during wisdom teeth extraction. The family’s malpractice claim was settled out of court in 2013.

Every general anesthetic carries a small risk, even when the patient is young and healthy, such as these two cases of death following wisdom teeth extractions.  All acute medical care involves attending to the A – B – C ‘s of Airway, Breathing, and Circulation.  During surgery for wisdom teeth extraction, the oral surgeon is operating in the patient’s mouth. Surgery in the mouth increases the chances that the operation will interfere with the patient’s Airway or Breathing.  The surgeon’s fingers, surgical instruments, retractors, and gauze pads crowd into the airway, and may influence breathing.  If the patient’s breathing becomes obstructed, altering the position of the jaw, the tongue, or the neck is more challenging than when surgery does not involve the airway.

I’ve attended to hundreds of patients for dental surgeries.  For dental surgery in a hospital setting, anesthesiologists commonly insert a breathing tube into the trachea after the induction of general anesthesia.  A properly positioned tracheal tube can assure the Airway and Breathing for the duration of the surgery.  Because an anesthesiologist is not involved with performing the surgery, his or her attention can be 100% focused on the patient’s vital signs and medical condition.  When anesthesiologists are called on to perform general anesthesia for wisdom teeth extraction in a surgeon’s office, we typically use a different anesthetic technique. Usually there is no anesthesia machine to deliver potent inhaled anesthetics, therefore intravenous sedation is the technique of choice.  Usually no airway tube is inserted.  A typical technique is a combination of intravenous midazolam, fentanyl, propofol, and/or ketamine.  Oxygen is administered via the patient’s nostrils throughout the surgery. The adequacy of breathing is continuously monitored by both pulse oximetry and end-tidal carbon dioxide monitoring.  The current American Society of Anesthesiologist Standards for Basic Anesthetic Monitoring (July 1, 2011) state that “Every patient receiving general anesthesia shall have the adequacy of ventilation continually evaluated. … Continual monitoring for the presence of expired carbon dioxide shall be performed unless invalidated by the nature of the patient, procedure or equipment.”

The motto of the American Society of Anesthesiologists is “Vigilance.”  If the patient’s oxygen saturation and/or end-tidal carbon dioxide numbers begin to decline, an anesthesiologist will act immediately to improve the A – B – C ‘s of Airway, Breathing, and Circulation.

Let’s return to our opening question: Will you have an anesthesiologist for your wisdom teeth extraction surgery?  I cannot show you any data that an anesthesiologist provides safer care for wisdom teeth surgery than if an oral surgeon performs the anesthesia. The majority of wisdom teeth extractions in the United States are performed without an anesthesiologist, and reported complications are rare.  If you want an anesthesiologist, you need to make this clear to your oral surgeon, and ask him to make the necessary arrangements.  If you do choose to enlist a board-certified anesthesiologist for your wisdom teeth extractions, know that your anesthesia professional has completed a three or four year training program in his field, and is expert in all types of anesthesia emergencies.  As a downside, you will be responsible for an extra bill for the professional fee of this anesthesiologist.

Whether an anesthesiologist or an oral surgeon attends to your anesthesia, the objectives are the same:  Each will monitor the A – B – C ‘s of your Airway, Breathing, and Circulation to keep you oxygenated and ventilated, so you can wake up and leave that dental office an hour or so after your wisdom teeth extraction surgery has concluded.

 

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:

41wlRoWITkL

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

DSC04882_edited

 

 

THE OBESE PATIENT AND 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

Obese patients make anesthesiologists’ work more arduous.  Obese patients, especially morbidly obese and super obese patients, are at increased risk when they need surgery.

Perhaps you’re overweight and you wish you weren’t.

Your anesthesiologist wishes the same thing.  Let’s look at the reasons why.

Two hundred million Americans, or 65% of the U.S. adult population, are overweight or obese. Obesity as a disease is second only to smoking as a preventable cause of death.

The body mass index (BMI) has become the most widely applied classification tool used to assess individual weight status.  BMI is defined as the patient’s weight, measured in kilograms, divided by the square of the patient’s height, measured in meters.

A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9.  Patients are considered to be overweight with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 obese with a BMI between 30 and 39.9, morbidly obese between 40 and 49.9, and super obese at greater than 50.

Morbid obesity is associated with far more serious health consequences than moderate obesity, and creates additional challenges for health care providers.  Between 2000 and 2010, the prevalence of morbid obesity in the U.S. increased by 70%, whereas the prevalence of super obesity increased even faster.  It’s estimated that in 2010, 15.5 million adult Americans, or 6.6% of the population, had an actual BMI >40, and carried the diagnosis of morbid obesity.

MEDICAL PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH OBESITY

Obesity is an independent risk factor for heart disease, hypertension, stroke, hyperlipidemia, osteoarthritis, diabetes mellitus, cancer, and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).  A neck circumference > 17 inches in men or > 16 inches cm in women is associated with obstructive sleep apnea. As a result of these concomitant conditions, obesity is also associated with early death.

There is a clustering of metabolic and physical abnormalities referred to as the “metabolic syndrome.” To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you must have at least three of the following: abdominal obesity, elevated fasting blood sugar, hypertension, low HDL levels, or hypertriglyceridemia.  In the United States, nearly 50 million people have metabolic syndrome, for an age-adjusted prevalence of almost 24%. Of people with metabolic syndrome, more than 83% meet the criterion of obesity. Patients with metabolic syndrome have a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and are at increased risk for all-cause mortality.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition characterized by recurrent episodes of upper airway obstruction occurring during sleep. Obesity is the greatest risk factor for OSA, and about 70% of patients (up to 80% of males and 50% of females) with OSA are obese.  OSA is defined as complete blockage of airflow during breathing lasting 10 seconds or longer, despite maintenance of neuromuscular ventilatory effort, and occurring five or more times per hour of sleep (Apnea Hypopnea Index, or AHI, greater than or equal to five), and accompanied by a decrease of at least 4% in arterial oxygen saturation.  This diagnosis can be made only in patients who undergo a sleep study. Obstructive sleep apnea is classified as mild, moderate, or severe, as follows:

  • Mild OSA =A HI of 5 to 15 events per hour
  • Moderate OSA = AHI of 15 to 30 events per hour
  • Severe OSA = AHI of more than 30 events per hour

Treatment is recommended for patients with moderate or severe disease, and initial treatment is the wearing of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device during sleep.

ANESTHETIC CHALLENGES

Every anesthesia task can be more difficult to perform in an obese patient.  Excess adipose tissue (fat) on the upper extremities makes it harder to place an IV catheter.  Excess fat surrounding the mouth, throat, and neck can make it more difficult to place an airway tube.  Excess fat can make it more difficult to place a needle in the proper position for a spinal anesthetic, an epidural anesthetic, or a regional block of a specific peripheral nerve.  On thick, cone-shaped upper arms, it can be difficult for a blood pressure cuff to detect the blood pressure accurately.

During surgery, an anesthesiologist’s job is to maintain the patient’s A-B-C’s of Airway, Breathing, and Circulation, in that order.  All three tasks are more difficult in obese patients.

Airway procedures are often much more difficult to perform in obese patients than in patients with normal BMIs.  Every general anesthetic begins with the anesthesiologist injecting intravenous medications that induce sleep.  Next the anesthesiologist controls the breathing by using a mask over the patient’s face, and then he or she places an airway tube through the patient’s mouth into the windpipe.

The airway anatomy of obese patients, with or without OSA, may show a short, thick neck, large tongue, and significantly increased amounts of soft tissue surrounding the uvula, tonsils, tongue, and lateral aspects of their throats.  This can contribute to the development of airway obstruction and also increase the probability that it will be more difficult to keep the airway open during mask ventilation.  This can also contribute to difficulty placing an anesthesia airway tube into the windpipe at the beginning of general anesthesia.

What about breathing difficulties?  The chief reason that obese patients have difficulty with breathing during anesthesia is that they have abnormally low lung volumes for their size.  When lying flat on their back, a patient’s increased abdominal bulk pushes up on their lungs, and prevents the lungs from inflating fully.  Once the patient is anesthetized, this mechanical situation is worsened, because breathing is impaired by the anesthetic drugs and muscle relaxation allows the abdomen to sink further into the chest.  The essence of the problem is that the abdomen squashes the lungs and makes them less efficient both as a reservoir and as an exchange organ for oxygen.  Because of this, the obese patient is at risk for running out of oxygen and turning blue more quickly than a lean patient.

In one study,  patients undergoing general anesthesia received 100% oxygen by facemask before induction of general anesthesia. After the induction of general anesthesia, the patients were left without ventilation until their oxygen saturation fell from 100% to 90%.  Patients with normal BMIs took 6 minutes for their oxygen level to fall to 90%. Obese patients reached that end point in less than 3 minutes.

What about circulation?  Maintaining stable circulatory status can be difficult because obese patients have a higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease, including hypertension, arrhythmias, stroke, heart failure, and coronary artery disease. During anesthesia and surgery, unexpected high or low blood pressure events are more common in obese patients than in those with normal BMIs.  Morbidly obese patients have a higher rate of heart attack postoperatively than patients with normal BMIs.

Regional anesthesia, especially epidural and spinal anesthesia, is often a safer technique than general anesthesia in obese patients. However, regional anesthesia can be  technically more difficult because of the physical challenge of the anatomy being obscured by excess fat.

Operative times are often longer in obese patients, owing to technical challenges for the surgeon regarding anatomy distorted or hidden behind excessive fat.  Longer surgery means a longer time under general anesthesia, which is a cause of delayed awakening from anesthesia. At the conclusion of surgery, obese patients wake more slowly than lean patients. Anesthetic drug and gas concentrations drop more slowly post-surgery, because traces of the chemicals linger in the reservoirs of excessive adipose tissue.

Common serious postoperative complications in obese patients include blood clots in the legs (deep venous thrombosis) and wound infections at the surgical incision line.

(Reference for this section:  Miller’s Anesthesia, 7th Edition, 2009, Chapter 64).

DATA ON THE RISKS OF OBESITY AND SURGERY

In one landmark study, researchers analyzed postoperative complications in 6,773 patients treated between 2001 and 2005 at the University of Michigan. Of the patients who had complications, 33% were obese and 15% were morbidly obese. Obese patients had much higher rates of postoperative complications than nonobese patients, as follows:  5 times more heart attacks, 4 times more peripheral nerve injuries, 1.7 times more  wound infections, and 1.5 times more urinary tract infections. The overall death rate was no different for obese and nonobese patients, but the death rate was nearly twice as high among morbidly obese patients as compared with nonobese patients (2.2% vs. 1.2%).

CONCLUSIONS

Experienced anesthesiologists respect the risks and difficulties presented by obese, morbidly obese, and super obese patients.  The ranks of overweight Americans are growing, and every week we anesthetize thousands of them for surgery.  As an obese American, are you safe in the operating room?  You probably are, because anesthesia professionals are well-educated in the risks of taking care of you. But you must realize that you are at higher risk for a complication than those with a normal BMI.

What can you do about all this? If you are morbidly obese and your surgery is optional, you may consider not having surgery at all.  If you have time before surgery, you can try to lose weight.  Before any surgery, you should consult your primary care physician to make sure that any obesity-related medical problems have been addressed.  You may be placed on medication for hypertension, hyperlipidemia, or diabetes.  You may have undiagnosed OSA, and may benefit from a nightly CPAP treatment for that disorder.

Bariatric surgery (e.g., gastric banding, gastric bypass) is a well-accepted and effective treatment for weight loss in super obese and morbidly obese patients.  Bariatric surgery refers to surgical alteration of the small intestine or stomach with the aim of producing weight loss. More than 175,000 bariatric surgeries were performed in 2006, and more than 200,000 were performed in 2008 (Miller’s Anesthesia, 7th Edition, 2009, Chapter 64). Weight loss after bariatric surgery is often dramatic. On the average, patients lose 60% of their extra weight. For example, a 350-pound person who is 200 pounds overweight could lose about 120 pounds.  All the anesthetic considerations and risks discussed above would still apply to any patient coming to the operating room for weight loss surgery.

Obesity was considered a rarity until the middle of the 20th century.  Now more than 300,000 deaths per year in the United States and more than $100 billion in annual health care spending are attributable to obesity. Obesity most frequently develops when food calorie intake exceeds energy expenditure over a long period of time.

If you’re obese, this doctor recommends you eat less, and exercise more.  Stay lean if you can.  Your anesthesiologist will thank you.

 

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

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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 ricknovak.com by clicking on the picture below:  

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IS ANESTHESIA 99% BOREDOM AND 1% PANIC?

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

When you have surgery, do you care who administers your anesthetic? You should. An oft-repeated medical adage states:“anesthesia is 99% boredom and 1% panic.

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GOALIES AT THE PEARLY GATES

As an anesthesiologist who’s delivered over 50,000 hours of operating room care over 25 years, I can attest that the adage is true.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, the anesthesia provider’s job requires vigilance during a patient’s stable progression of metronome heartbeats and regular breathing, but 1% of the time requires clear thinking and prompt action during moments of sheer panic. These stress-filled episodes of panic are unknown to the general public, yet represent ordeals that every anesthesia provider must rise above to protect their patients.

Webster’s Dictionary defines panic as “ an overwhelming feeling of fear and anxiety.”  If you were to observe an anesthesiologist at work, you would see little or no evidence of overwhelming fear or anxiety.  Even under dire emergencies, most anesthesia providers remain outwardly composed and efficient while they make the necessary diagnoses and apply the appropriate treatments.  But anesthesiologists are human–no human can watch another human trying to die without feeling intense emotions.  These emotions are fear and anxiety.

No field of medicine provides the stunning variety of anesthesia.  Patients vary from neonates to centenarians, from laboring women to motor vehicle accident victims at three a.m., while surgeries vary from repair of a broken finger to the transplantation of a heart or a liver.  Technologic advances have led surgeons to operate on older and sicker patients, and to attempt more complex surgeries than decades ago.

The operating room is an intense environment.  Operating room medicine is pressure-packed for four reasons:

  1. Anesthetic drugs change the physiology of patients in profound ways.
  2. Surgeons do dangerous things to patients.
  3. Surgical patients have diseases.  Some of these diseases are urgent or severe.
  4. Human beings make errors.  This includes both surgeons and anesthesia providers.

Unbelievable events occur at unexpected times in operating rooms, and your anesthesia provider must keep you safe.  He or she is in control of your airway, breathing, and circulation at every moment.  Your anesthesia provider is your insurance policy against medical complications during surgery.  Your anesthesia provider’s job is to play Goalie at the Pearly Gates, and keep you alive.

The individual administering your anesthesia can vary–your anesthesia provider may be:

  1. a medical doctor (an anesthesiologist),
  2. a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) or anesthesia assistant (AA) supervised by an anesthesiologist, or
  3. a CRNA working without anesthesiologist supervision.

In the United States, anesthesiologists personally administer 35% of the anesthetics.  Anesthesia care teams, in which an anesthesiologist medically directs a team of AA’s or CRNA’s, administer 55% of the anesthetics.  CRNA’s, working unsupervised, administer 10% of the anesthetics.

There are people who perceive anesthesia care to be so safe that it can be taken for granted.  They are wrong.  Anesthesia care is safest when a physician, a board-certified anesthesiologist, directs the anesthetic care.  Published data shows that:

  1. Mortality rates after surgery are significantly lower when anesthesiologists direct anesthesia care.
  2. Failure-to-rescue rates (the rate of death after a complication) are significantly lower when anesthesiologists direct anesthesia care.
  3. Death rates and failure-to-rescue rates are significantly lower when board-certified anesthesiologists supervise anesthesia care, compared to when mid-career anesthesiologists who are not board-certified supervise anesthesia care.

“Failure-to-rescue” implies that the anesthesia provider wasn’t successful in preventing a 1% panic moment from turning into a death statistic. The phrase “failure-to-rescue” is a key theme of this book.   Or more precisely, the phrase “successful rescue” is a key theme of this book.  When unexpected events occur during surgery–the 1% panic moments–your anesthesia provider needs to make the correct diagnosis and apply the correct therapeutic intervention to successfully rescue you.

When you meet your anesthesia provider prior to surgery, you’re about to trust your life to a stranger.  It matters who that stranger is.  As a patient, do you have any control over who your anesthesia provider will be?  If your surgery is an emergency at 2 a.m. when only one anesthesia provider is available, you will not.  But for most surgeries, and all elective surgeries, this book will teach you what to expect in anesthesia care, and what you can do to receive the best in anesthesia care.

Anesthesiologists must finish a minimum of 12 years of post-high school education–four years of college, four years of medical school, and four years of anesthesia internship and residency.  Nurse anesthetists must finish a minimum of 7 or 8 years of post-high school education –four years of college, a minimum of one year of critical care nursing experience, and two to three years of anesthetist training.  Anesthesia assistants must finish a minimum of 6 years of post-high school education–four years of college, and a 24-month program to obtain a Master’s degree as an anesthesia assistant.

Why would an individual choose to become an anesthesia provider?  It’s rare for teenagers or college students to dream of themselves as anesthetists.  Most popular television, movies, and fiction portray physicians in more conventional careers as surgeons, emergency room doctors, or in clinics.  Only 4% of medical school graduates choose anesthesiology.

I believe that individuals who choose anesthesia for their medical career are individuals who love the adrenaline rush of acute medical care.  Operating room anesthesia is a 180-degree turn from outpatient clinics, where practitioners take histories, order lab tests, write prescriptions for pills, and make appointments to see their patient weeks into the future.  Instead of  experiencing clinic visits over months or years, the anesthetic encounter is immediate care with immediate results.  Instead of a clinic patient returning weeks later for a recheck, the anesthetic patient wakes up from their anesthetic, and is discharged to their home or their hospital bed within hours.

I had already completed a three-year residency in internal medicine before I began my years of anesthesia training.  The diagnosis and treatment of complex medical patients appealed to me during internal medicine training, but I found the glacial pace of outpatient clinic care boring.  When I worked along side anesthesiologists in the intensive care unit, I was wooed by their skills in placing breathing tubes, intravenous and intra-arterial catheters, and their apparent calmness no matter how ill any patient was.  The world of acute care medicine is the world of airway, breathing, and circulation.  No specialty mastered all three as completely as anesthesiologists did.

The beginning of specialty training in anesthesia brings both intimidating power and overwhelming challenge.  For the first time in your life, your profession is to inject powerful medications into patients and watch them lose consciousness in seconds.  Administering your first anesthetic is an unforgettable experience.  One minute you are chatting with a patient, telling them to picture themselves relaxing on a beach in Hawaii, and the next minute you’ve rendered them unconscious and totally dependent on you to manage their airway, breathing, and circulation.

Moving from novice anesthesiologist trainee to experienced specialist requires hard work and patience.  On the first day of my anesthesia residency, I was so green I didn’t even know which hoses connected my anesthesia gas machine to the patient.  While learning the anesthesia profession, trainees must learn to endure the 99% boredom factor and glean their most valuable lessons during the 1% panic time.  During my first week of training, after my patient was asleep with the breathing tube inserted and the anesthesia gases flowing, my faculty member, Dr. Gregory Ingham, said to me, “This procedure will take four hours.”  He stood next to me for a minute or two in silence, then he said, “I hope you’re of a contemplative nature.”

Why would he say such a thing to a first-week trainee?  I believe he said it because much of operating room anesthesia care is tedious vigilance over a stable situation.  The anesthetist needs to cope with this fact, and hopefully even appreciate and enjoy the stability.

One week after my first exposure to Dr. Ingham, I was on call overnight in the hospital with him again.  We had four consecutive emergency cases, all young healthy men with injuries suffered in motor vehicle or motorcycle accidents.  Prior to the fourth case, at 2 a.m., I evaluated the patient and proposed my anesthetic plan.  “Our patient is a healthy 25-year-old male except for his open femur fracture,” I said.  “I thought we could do the anesthetic the same way we did the last three.”

Dr. Ingham nodded at me and sighed, “Richard, the patients are all different, but the anesthetics are all the same.”

Is this true?  Why would he make a statement like this to an impressionable young trainee?  There is a great deal of cynicism and battle fatigue in his comment, but a grain of truth.  Patients are all different, and many anesthetics are similar, but not every anesthetic is identical.  There are always choices for the anesthetist to make–crucial, life threatening decisions–every day, and on every case.  Decisions are made before the surgery, during the stable phases of the anesthetic, and during the 1% of moments when the anesthetist’s mind is reeling.

Patients see none of this.  Patients typically have ten minutes or less to meet their anesthesia provider.  In the internal medicine clinic, patients are awake for 100% of their face-to-face time with their doctor, but before a surgery the anesthesiologist has only a brief encounter to gain their patient’s trust.  In the internal medicine clinic, a large number of patients had chronic complaints that were difficult to cure:  chronic pains, high blood pressure, obesity, or diabetes.  The treatments were usually involved a prescription for pills,  At the next office visit, the patient might feel better, but there was a significant chance that the patient would feel the same, or feel no better, or perhaps they have a new side-effect symptom from the pill you prescribed for them.

The anesthetic patient encounter is markedly different.  Prior to the surgery, most patients are anxious but they treat their anesthesiologist with soaring respect.  After the surgery, I find my patients are often gushing in their gratitude for the fact that I had delivered them safely back to consciousness.  In contrast to my sometimes-disappointed medicine clinic patients, the anesthetic patients are so upbeat that they make me feel wonderful.

When I describe the elation of interacting with anesthesia patients, my best friend offers a simple explanation:  “Of course your patients respect you before the surgery.  You’re about to knock them unconscious.  They’ll have no control and they’re completely dependent on you.  They want you to like them.  They want you to keep them alive.”

I believe that assessment is accurate.  Every patient wants the same thing from their anesthesia provider.  A successful, complication-free experience.  And that’s what happens . . . almost every time.

 

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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 ricknovak.com by clicking on the picture below:  

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AN ANESTHESIA ANECDOTE: AN INEPT ANESTHESIA PROVIDER CAN KILL A PATIENT IN LESS THAN TEN MINUTES

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

An inept anesthesia provider can lose a patient’s life in less than ten minutes.

NEWSPAPER HEADLINE:  “ANESTHESIOLOGIST KILLS PREGNANT MOTHER DURING EMERGENCY SURGERY”

 

What follows is a true story, with the names changed to protect the identities of the individuals…

THE CASE:  At 1:30 a.m. during the 14th month of his anesthesia training, Dr. Tony Andrews had been on duty inside the hospital since 7:00 a.m. the previous day–a total of 19 hours already.  He’d spent most of that time inserting epidural anesthetics into the lower backs of laboring women on the obstetrics ward.  He went to sleep in his on-call room shortly after midnight, exhausted and hopeful that he’d sleep until dawn.

No such luck.  The telephone woke him up–the caller was Jennifer Rogers, an obstetrician with a busy private practice.  “I need you,” she said.  “I have a patient named Naomi Jordan who’s in labor with new onset of vaginal bleeding and late decels.  I need to do a stat C-section.”

A layman’s translation of Jennifer’s sentence was this:  Naomi Jordan was a laboring mother who was bleeding from her vagina.  Her baby’s heart rate was dropping to dangerously low levels (known as decelerations, or decels) during the late phase of each uterine contraction.  Dr. Rogers needed to do an emergency cesarean section, that is, she needed to cut open the lower abdomen of the mother, cut open the uterus (the medical term for the womb), and deliver the baby before the mother’s bleeding endangered the baby’s health.  An emergency cesarean section meant Dr. Andrews wouldn’t get back to sleep for three hours, minimum.

“How much blood has she lost?” he mumbled, trying not to fall back asleep.

“No more than a cup so far, but the bleeding could accelerate within minutes.”

“I’ll be there in a minute.”  Every cesarean section required an anesthetic–that’s why Dr. Rogers called Dr. Andrews.  He was sleeping in the hospital to be immediately available for urgent obstetric anesthetics.  He turned on the room light and rubbed my eyes.  His wrinkled blue scrubs served as both pajamas and surgical attire.  He put his sneakers back on and set out down the hallway to find his new patient.

Once Dr. Andrews was on his feet, the prospect of emergency surgery jolted him like a double espresso.  By the time he reached Naomi Jordan’s room, his head was clear and he’d forgotten what time of night it was.

Naomi Jordan was a round-faced black woman in her 20’s.  She was sitting up in bed and panting her way through a labor contraction.  She flared her lips and bared her teeth to endure the pain and grunted out, “Ow, ow, ow,” with each exhaled breath.  Naomi did little to hide her suffering, and paid no attention to Andrews when he entered the room.  A gray-haired labor and delivery nurse stood at the bedside.  The nurse held one hand on Naomi’s shoulder and focused her eyes on the fetal monitor screen that traced the baby’s heart rate.

Dr. Andrews opened the patient’s chart to skim through the pertinent details.  Naomi was 25 years old and healthy.  She was 9 months pregnant with her first child.  Her current weight was 185 pounds, and she was 5 feet 4 inches tall.  She’d been in labor for four hours, and her progress had been unremarkable until the last thirty minutes.

He sat down on the bed next to the patient, and said, “Hi, Ms. Jordon, I’m Dr. Andrews, one of the anesthesiologists who will be with you during your cesarean section.”  What he didn’t say was, “I’m a partially-trained anesthesiologist.”  It was his objective to appear confident and competent–she didn’t have to know he still had almost a year before he finished his training.  She didn’t have to know that his calm appearance was a guise that hid any uncertainty due to his inexperience.

Sweat dripped down Naomi’s cheeks and forehead.  Her eyes were dilated and wild.  She replied, “My baby girl.  I just want my baby to be all right.”

“We’ll do everything we can,” he said.  “You’re going to need be asleep for the surgery.  For most cesarean sections, anesthesiologists give an injection in the lady’s back–a spinal anesthetic–to numb you from your chest down.  But because you’re bleeding from below, that’s not a safe option.”

“I can see my baby as soon as I wake up, right?”

“Yes you can.  I’ll give you medicine into your I.V., and you’ll fall asleep in seconds.  When you wake up, the surgery will be finished.”  Dr. Andrews rattled through a brief explanation of the common risks, which included post-operative pain, nausea, and a sore throat from the breathing tube that I would place after she lost consciousness.  “It’s common for the bleeding to stop once you’ve delivered your baby.  It’s not likely that you’ll receive a blood transfusion, but if I need to give you blood to keep you safe, I will.”

She nodded her head and shivered.  “I’m scared to death,” she said.

“I’m not.  I’ll take good care of you.” He touched the back of her hand, and said, “I’ll be right back.”

He stepped out of her room to find a telephone.  This was his second and final year of anesthesia residency training, and he was the sole anesthesiologist on the obstetrics ward at 1:40 in the morning.   He had a faculty backup, Dr. Luke Harrington, who was at his home, presumably asleep.  It was time to end Dr. Harrington’s slumbers.

Dr. Andrews called Dr. Harrington and explained the urgent clinical situation.  Dr. Harrington said, “If she’s bleeding, she’ll need a general anesthetic.  I’ll be right in.”

When patients have significant bleeding, the volume of blood in their arteries and veins is depleted.  For most cesarean sections, anesthesiologists prefer to give a regional anesthetic (either a spinal anesthetic or an epidural anesthetic), that leaves the patient awake but numb from the nipples down.  Neither a spinal nor an epidural can be safely administered in a patient who is actively bleeding.  Spinal and epidural anesthetics relax the sympathetic nervous system and dilate both arteries and veins, lowering the blood pressure further.  Dilating arteries that are already emptied because of bleeding is dangerous, and can lead to cardiac arrest or death.

Dr. Andrews hung up the phone and returned to Naomi’s bedside.  The nurse was disconnecting the fetal monitors and readying the bed for transport to the operating room.  Together they rolled the gurney down the hallway, and into the operating room.  A surgical scrub technician and an operating room nurse were waiting for them inside the OR.  The nurses and Dr. Andrews pulled surgical masks over their faces.  Only Naomi Jordan stayed unmasked.  Her hands shook and her voice cracked.  “Is my baby still all right?  She’s going to be O.K., isn’t she?”

“We’re going to move ahead and deliver her as soon as we can,” Dr. Andrews said.  He hung her I.V. bottle on a pole next to the anesthesia machine and said, “Can you please move over from your bed to the operating room table?”

With a loud grunt and a louder moan, Naomi wiggled herself to her right from the hospital bed onto the narrow O.R. table.  She left behind a two-foot-wide circular stain of blood on the sheets of her bed–evidence of ongoing vaginal bleeding.  The sight of the pool of blood fed Dr. Andrews’ sense of urgency.  It looked like more than a cup had spilled onto the sheets.  How much blood had she lost?

He used his stethoscope to listen to Naomi’s chest, and confirmed that her heart tones and breath sounds were normal.  He asked her to open her mouth, and assessed how easy it would be to insert a breathing tube after he anesthetized her.  She had a short neck and a thick tongue, but otherwise he didn’t note anything exceptional about her mouth or airway.  Dr. Andrews went about his routine and attached a blood pressure cuff to her arm, electrocardiogram stickers to her chest, and an oximeter probe to her finger.

Her heart rate was fast at 120 beats per minute.  The elevated heart rate could be secondary to her anxiety, but it could be because her bleeding was ongoing and her heart was working hard to pump a depleted blood volume to her vital organs.

Her blood pressure was 100/55, a lower value than the last reading of 115/60 ten minutes earlier.  The low blood pressure worried him–it could be further evidence that her blood vessels were emptying as she continued to bleed.  The pulse oximeter on her finger gave a reading of 100%, indicating that her arterial blood was 100% saturated with oxygen–a good sign.

Naomi looked like she was ready to sit up and run out of the room.  “It’s freezing in here,” she said, glancing around the room at the anesthesia machines and the array stainless steel surgical tools laid out on the scrub table.  “I’m so scared.  Can’t my mom be in here with me?”

“No,” Dr. Andrews said as he loaded my syringes with anesthetic drugs.  “When patients are going to be asleep, it’s not safe for family to be in here observing.  You’re going to be all right.”

The operating room nurse pulled up Naomi’s gown and began painting the bulbous abdomen with Betadine, an iodine disinfectant soap.  Dr. Rogers entered the room. She was a trim, attractive woman in her thirties.  She grabbed Naomi’s left hand and wiped away the tears from her patient’s eyes. “We’ll take great care of you,” she said.  Naomi blinked hard and closed her eyes.

A female scrub tech unfolded a large blue sterile paper drape, and set it down over Naomi’s abdomen to cover the Betadine-painted skin.  The scrub tech’s job was to hang the drapes to isolate the surgical field, and after that to hand sterile instruments to the surgeon during the surgery. She handed one edge of the drape to Andrews, and he applied clamps to secure the drape to two tall metal poles to the left and right of the patient’s shoulders.  This configuration formed a wall of blue paper with Naomi’s head and the anesthesiologist on one side of the barrier, and the sterile surgical field on the opposite side.  Dr. Rogers reentered the operating room.  She’d left to scrub her hands, and now she donned the sterile gown and gloves of her trade.  She took her position on the left side of the patient’s abdomen, and looked Dr. Andrews in the eye.  “Are you ready to get her asleep?” she asked him.

“I’m still waiting for Dr. Harrington,” he said. “Otherwise I’m ready to go.”  He turned to the nurse and said, “Call the general O.R. and the ICU.  Find out if any other anesthesiologists are available to assist me.”

“Will do,” she said, and she picked up a phone.

It was 1:55 a.m.  Dr. Andrews had checked the necessary anesthesia equipment, and it was all present and in order: breathing tubes, laryngoscopes needed for inserting a breathing tube, multiple syringes loaded with anesthetic drugs, and the anesthesia machine capable of delivering mixtures of oxygen, nitrous oxide, and the potent anesthetic vapor called isoflurane.

He looked down at the spheres of sweat beading up on Naomi’s forehead.  She was breathing oxygen through a clear plastic mask.  Each time she exhaled, water vapor fogged the clear plastic of the mask in front of her mouth.

The surgeon looked at the clock and said, “I don’t have any monitor of the fetal heart tones at this point, so I have no idea if the baby’s all right.  The patient is still bleeding.  We need to get the kid out.”

Dr. Andrews’ head was spinning.  Where was Dr. Harrington?  Tony Andrews was 31 years old and had been an M.D. for over five years, but he’d never been in this exact situation without a faculty anesthesiologist before.  He was confident– he had plenty of medical experience. This was his second year of anesthesia residency training, and he’d administered about eight hundred anesthetics in the preceding thirteen months.  He’d done dozens of general anesthetics for cesarean sections just like this one, but he’d never done one alone.  He was nervous as hell, but was he certain that he could handle starting this case without Dr. Harrington in attendance?  The problem was . . . it was too risky to wait any longer.  The baby’s life was at stake.  The mother’s life was at stake.

The nurse interrupted his train of thoughts.  “The main O.R. has two fresh trauma patients,” she said.  “They don’t have any extra anesthesiologists to come up and help you.  And the ICU phone is busy.”

Dr. Andrews inhaled a big breath and blew it out through pursed lips.  He could think of no other alternative.  “O.K., I’m going ahead,” he said to the surgeon.  She nodded in affirmation.

“I need you to give the patient cricoid pressure as she goes to sleep,” Dr. Andrews said to the operating room nurse.  Cricoid pressure is a medical maneuver whereby an assistant presses down firmly on a specific spot on the patient’s anterior neck, called the cricoid cartilage.  This action compresses the patient’s esophagus below.  Compressing the esophagus prevents regurgitation of stomach contents into the throat and mouth.  The stomach of a pregnant woman empties slowly, and the anesthesiologist must assume the stomach is full of undigested food.  Regurgitated vomit in the patient’s airway and lungs can be lethal.

The letters A-B-C, abbreviations for the words Airway-Breathing-Circulation, summarize the management of every acute medical situation.  As soon as Naomi went to sleep and couldn’t breathe on her own, she needed an airway tube.  That’s the anesthesiologist’s job–Dr. Andrews was the only one in the operating room with the training and ability to insert the endotracheal tube.

He injected 20 milliliters of the hypnotic drug sodium pentothal into her I.V. over a three-second span of time, and then injected 4 milliliters of the muscle-paralyzing drug succinylcholine.

“You’re doing great.  Everything’s going to be all right,” he said to Naomi, a wish as much as a promise.  The nurse located the cricoid cartilage on Naomi’s neck, and pressed downward.

Sodium pentothal is a rapid-acting drug that induces unconsciousness.  Naomi’s eyes closed ten seconds after the injection.  The second drug, succinylcholine, also known as “sux,” is an ultra fast-acting muscle relaxant.  Intravenous sux renders all the muscles in the body flaccid within a minute.  This paralysis makes it possible for the anesthesiologist to insert a lighted instrument called a laryngoscope into a patient’s mouth, visualize the vocal cords in the patient’s larynx (the medical name for the voice box), and place a hollow breathing tube through the vocal cords into the trachea (the medical name for the windpipe).  The paralysis also makes it impossible for the patient to breathe on her own.

The operating room was quiet except for the beeping of Naomi’s pulse on my monitoring equipment.  Everyone was waiting for Dr. Andrews.  Surgery could not begin until he inserted the breathing tube.

Thirty seconds after he injected the sux, every muscle of Naomi’s body began to shiver in involuntary paroxysms.  The widespread contraction-then-paralysis of every skeletal muscle of Naomi’s body is a phenomenon known as fasciculation, a well-known and expected side effect of sux.  Watching an otherwise motionless patient fasciculate is a creepy experience–the patient’s body moves as if demon forces were tunneling beneath the surface of the skin.

Once the fasciculation ceased, Dr. Andrews knew his patient was paralyzed.  His heart thundered as he removed her oxygen mask.  He turned on the light on my laryngoscope and gripped the metal handle in his left fist.  After she fell asleep, Naomi’s lips and tongue collapsed against each other, obstructing any view of her teeth or inside her mouth.  Dr. Andrews first job was to pry the mouth open and insert the lighted metal laryngoscope blade between her incisors.  He followed the light as it illuminated her mouth and throat.  He was looking for the pearly white vocal cords that guarded the windpipe.  His initial search was futile–all he could see were the flabby pink tissues of her tongue and throat.  He pulled harder the laryngoscope handle in an effort to lever open the airway, but he still saw nothing but pink flesh.  He began to breathe faster, and sweat poured from his underarms.

At that moment, Dr. Andrews heard the sound that strikes terror into every anesthesiologist’s heart–a descending musical scale keeping time with every one of Naomi’s heartbeats.

The descending musical notes came from the medical monitoring device known as a pulse oximeter.  The pulse oximeter is the most vital and important monitor in any acute care medical setting.  The pulse oximeter records its signal from a clip placed across the tip of a patient’s finger.  One side of the clip is a red light emitting diode (LED), and the other side of the clip is a receptor that quantifies the amount of red light that passes through the patient’s fingertip.  A computer in the pulse oximeter filters out all the signals except for red light that pulsates.  The only source for pulsating red light in the fingertip is blood in the small arteries.  The pulse oximeter converts red hue of the pulsating arterial blood to a percentage of oxygen saturation in the blood, based on how red the blood is:

More oxygen in the blood => redder blood => an increased oxygen saturation of 90% or greater => the patient is safe.

Less oxygen => darker purple blood => an oxygen saturation lower than 90% => the patient’s life is in danger.

The pulse oximeter emits a beep tone with every measured heartbeat.  As Naomi’s oxygen saturation declined below 90%, the beeping note decreased in pitch.  As her lips turned blue before his eyes, the descending chromatic scale of the pulse oximeter announced that the blood in her fingertip contained less oxygen.  This also meant her heart and brain were receiving less oxygen.

At the same time, the rate of the oximeter beeps increased to over 130 beats per minute. Dr. Andrews’ own heart rate was higher than Naomi’s.  Naomi Jordon and her baby were dying in his hands, and it was up to him to step it up and save her.  It was up to Dr. Andrews to insert the breathing tube.

Instead, he panicked.

He repeated the same futile attempts to visualize her vocal cords.  He reinserted the same metal laryngoscope into her mouth and followed the illuminated trail of its flashlight bulb.  He was still looking for the two pearly white vocal cords and the blackness of the tracheal lumen between them.

Instead, all he saw were folds of pink tissues.

The menacing notes of the oximeter beeps descended further.  The patient was out of oxygen.  Dr. Andrews pushed the metal laryngoscope deeper into her throat in a desperation move to find the trachea.

“Can’t you intubate her?” Dr. Rogers asked.

Dr. Andrews was too stuck in his predicament to answer.  The pulse oximeter tone was deeper than he’d ever heard it.  He glanced up at the machine, and saw that the oxygen saturation was in the 50’s.

Incompatible with life.

I’ve killed her, he thought, and the vivid image of a newspaper headline filled his head: “ANESTHESIOLOGIST KILLS PREGNANT MOTHER DURING EMERGENCY SURGERY.”  At that second, Dr. Tony Andrews would have given anything to escape from that mess with Naomi Jordon alive and well.

Stupefied by failure, he didn’t know what else to do except to keep trying over and over to put the tube in.

THE RESCUE:  At that moment, Dr, Tony Andrews’ luck turned.  The outer door to the operating room opened, and Dr. Luke Harrington ran in, wearing the non-surgical attire of blue jeans and a faded blue polo shirt.  Street clothes were never allowed in the sterile confines of an operating room.  Dr. Harrington observed the chaotic scene through the operating room window that faced in from the outside hallway, and figured out there was no time for a wardrobe change.

Instead of screaming at me or asking questions, Dr. Harrington said, “Take the laryngoscope out of her mouth NOW.  Let’s put the anesthesia mask back over her face.”

Dr. Andrews complied.

“Hold the mask with two hands,” he said.  “Fit it in a good seal over her face, and I’ll squeeze the ventilation bag.”

Dr. Andrews pressed the clear plastic mask over her mouth and nose and held it in an airtight fashion, with one hand at 3 o’clock and one hand at 9 o’clock over each of her cheeks.  Dr. Harrington squeezed the ventilation bag, and by this technique they were able to force 100% oxygen through her upper airway into her lungs via bag-mask ventilation.

Of course, Dr. Andrews thought.  She was dying and turning blue.  I was supposed to stop the futile attempts to put in a breathing tube, and just do this.  Pump in oxygen via the facemask.

Dr. Andrews held his breath and looked up at the vital sign monitors.  Her oxygen saturation hung low, still in the 60’s.  Dangerously low.

His mouth was so dry that he couldn’t swallow.

Dr. Harrington remained impassive.  If he was worried, he wasn’t showing it.  He fixed his eyes on the oximeter numerical readout.

For the next sixty seconds Dr. Andrews’ mind echoed, God, please, God please. . . .  A full minute went by, and then note-by-note the beep tone of the oximeter rose in pitch, and the numeric readout climbed in parallel.  From 60%, the oxygen saturation rose to 66%, . . . 72%, . . . 83%, then 93%.

They’d done it!  With an oxygen saturation greater than 90%, her brain and heart were now receiving an adequate supply of oxygen.  The surgeon peered over the drapes at us.  She was still holding her scalpel dormant.  She couldn’t start the cesarean section until the anesthesiologists had safely placed the endotracheal tube.

Dr. Harrington asked Dr. Andrews, “What happened when you tried to intubate her?”

“I couldn’t see anything but pink tissues.”

Dr. Harrington lifted the mask away from her face, and opened her mouth to look inside.  He frowned and nodded.  “Let’s change her head position.  Get me two white towels.”

He had Dr. Andrews lift up Naomi’s shoulders, while he stuffed two folded white towels behind her neck.  Naomi Jordan’s head extended backwards and her mouth fell open for the first time.

“Looks better.  Try it again,” Dr. Harrington said. Dr. Andrews was surprised that he’d want him try again, since he’d done nothing right so far.  He wondered why Dr. Harrington didn’t just take over.

The patient’s oxygen saturation was up to 100%.   Dr. Harrington pushed another 10-milliliter bolus of sodium pentothal into the IV to keep Naomi asleep, and Dr. Andrews opened her mouth to try again.  This time, as he advanced the laryngoscope blade and light into her mouth, the anatomical landmarks were more obvious.  Past the base of her tongue, he located the epiglottis, the pink flap of tissue that closed off the windpipe each time she swallowed.  He was elated–he hadn’t seen any recognizable structures my last time in.  The larynx, the gateway to the trachea, lay just beneath the epiglottis.  Since neither light nor vision can travel in a curve, he needed to lift up the epiglottis to see past it.  He pulled hard on the laryngoscope handle toward the ceiling.  To his relief and amazement, he saw the black hole of the tracheal opening.

“I’ve got it,” Dr. Andrews said, his voice cracking.

“Here’s the tube,” Dr. Harrington said, as he handed Dr. Andrews the clear plastic endotracheal tube. Dr. Andrews fed the tube through her mouth, past the epiglottis and into the trachea.  Dr. Harrington injected 8 milliliters of air from an empty syringe into a portal on the tube.  This inflated a balloon near the distal tip of the tube, which formed a seal against the inner walls of Naomi’s trachea.

Dr. Harrington connected the endotracheal tube to the hoses from the anesthesia machine, and squeezed the ventilation bag.  The patient’s chest expanded. Dr. Andrews pressed his stethoscope against her chest and listened.  The breath sounds were prominent and conclusive.  The endotracheal tube was in the correct place.

“You can cut,” Dr. Harrington said to the surgeon.

Dr. Rogers turned her attention to the patient’s lower abdomen, and made a swift horizontal incision above the pubic bone.  Her assistant retracted the tissue layers as Dr. Rogers cut deeper inside the body.  Within five minutes, she’d controlled all the bleeding and exposed the anterior wall of the uterus.  A second incision cleaved the womb, and she reached inside to pull the baby out.  Within 30 seconds, she’d delivered the baby, cut the umbilical cord, and handed the baby off to the team of pediatricians ready to resuscitate her.

The anesthesiologists’ work wasn’t over after they placed the breathing tube.  They turned on a mixture of 50% nitrous oxide in 50% oxygen, and dialed in a 0.6% mixture of the anesthetic gas isoflurane.  These gases would keep Naomi asleep as the surgeon worked to sew her back together.

Across the room the pediatricians ventilated the baby with oxygen by mask.  Within 5 minutes the baby was pink and crying.  “Apgar scores are 2 and 9,” the pediatric resident said.  The Apgar score is a rating from 0 to 10, calculated one minute after birth and again at 5 minutes, used to quantify how healthy and vital the baby is.  The score is a sum of 0 – 2 points each for five different criteria, including Activity, Pulse, Grimace, Appearance, and Respirations.  The baby’s 5 minute Apgar score of 9 was nearly a perfect 10, and a sign that the baby had survived the birthing process without apparent harm.

Dr. Andrews thanked Dr. Harrington for his timely arrival. Dr. Andrews’ hands were still shaking, supercharged with the adrenaline that had poured into his system over the last hectic hour.

Sixty minutes later, the surgeon closed the last surgical incision, concluding the cesarean section. Dr. Andrews turned off the anesthetic gases.  Naomi Jordan opened her eyes, and Dr. Andrews removed the breathing tube.

“Is my baby girl here?” she asked.

“She’s right here,” Dr. Andrews said, and the pediatrician handed the infant to her mother.  Naomi cried tears of joy.  It was all Dr. Andrews could do to keep from crying along with her.

Dr. Harrington had rescued all three of them:  Naomi, her baby daughter, and Tony Andrews.

LESSONS LEARNED:  The Naomi Jordan story highlights three key issues:  1) the crucial importance of airway management, 2) surgery and anesthesia have risk, and(3) the problem of inexperienced anesthesia practitioners performing medical care they are not fully capable to handle.

(1)  The crucial importance of airway management:  Losing control of an unconscious patient’s airway is a hazard that every anesthetist dreads, every day, in every operating room.  Indeed, the most important skill an anesthesia provider learns is not how to administer powerful sleep drugs, but how to keep patients alive and well under the influence of powerful sleep drugs.  All major anesthetic drugs and gases cause profound depression of breathing and/or cardiac function.

Keeping the anesthetized patient’s airway open via a mask or a laryngeal mask airway or a breathing tube is a critical skill for every anesthesia provider.   If the airway closes, the brain is deprived of oxygen.  Irreversible brain damage can occur after as little as four minutes without oxygen.

(2)  The risks involved in surgery and anesthesia:  Deep down, every surgical patient has the same worry:  How safe is surgery and anesthesia?

Methods of evaluating anesthetic mortality are inexact and controversial.  In 1999 the Institute of Medicine published their report entitled To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health Care System.  In this report, the Committee on Quality of Health Care in America stated that, “anesthesia is an area in which very impressive improvements in safety have been made.”  The Committee cited anesthesia mortality rates that decreased from 1 death per 5,000 anesthetics administered during the 1980s, to 1 death per 200,000-300,000 anesthetics administered in 1999.  Keep in mind that this statistic reflects the frequency of all patients, healthy or ill, who die in the operating room.

This conclusion that anesthesia mortality has plummeted is not universal.  When mortality is defined as any death occurring within 48 hours following surgery, the statistics are much different.  In 2002, anesthesiologist Dr. Robert S. Lagasse of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York published a study in Anesthesiology, the specialty’s leading journal, that challenged the Institute of Medicine report.

Lagasse presented data on surgical mortality from two academic New York hospitals between the years 1992 and 1999.  Mortality was defined as any death occurring within 48 hours following surgery.  There were 351 deaths in 184,472 surgeries–an overall surgical mortality rate of 1 death per 532 cases. Keep in mind that these were deaths within 48 hours–not deaths in the operating room.

Deaths related to anesthesia errors were much less–only 14 deaths out of 184,472 surgeries–a rate of 1 death per 13,176 cases.   Lagasse’s anesthesia-related mortality rate of 1 per 13,176 surgeries was significantly different that the Institute of Medicine’s rate of 1 death per 200,000-300,000 surgeries.  Lagasse wrote, “We must dispel the myth that anesthesia-related mortality has improved by an order of magnitude. Science does not support this claim.”

Lagasse compared anesthesia to the aviation industry: “The safety of airline travel, for example, has increased dramatically in this century, but since the 1960s there has been minimal improvement in fatality rates.  This may be due to the effect that improved safety technology has had on air traffic density.  Technology has made it possible to meet production pressures of the commercial airline industry by allowing more takeoffs and landings with less separation between aircraft.  With this increased aircraft density comes increased danger, thereby offsetting potential improvements in safety.  This may be analogous to the practice of anesthesiology in which improvements in medical technology have led to increased anesthetic management of older patients with significantly more concurrent disease.”

Today’s surgery patients are sicker than ever.  About 5% of all surgical patients die within one year of surgery.  For patients over the age of 65 years, 10% of all surgical patients die within one year of surgery.

Naomi Jordan was healthy, and a cesarean section is a common surgical procedure.  But her case was an emergency procedure, and general anesthesia for cesarean section is known to be a high risk for airway problems because pregnant women have narrowed upper airways, decreased oxygen reserves, and stomachs that do not empty normally.  A 2003 study showed that a difficult or failed intubation following induction of general anesthesia for cesarean section was the number-one factor in anesthesia-related maternal complications.

Because of this, the use of general anesthesia for cesarean sections has declined.  In a Harvard study published in 1998, only 3.6% to 7.2% of cesarean sections were done under general anesthesia.  Difficult intubations were frequently unexpected, as was the case for Naomi Jordan, and one failed intubation resulted in the mother’s death.

Whenever possible, the safest anesthetic choice for cesarean section is a spinal or an epidural block, in which the anesthetist injects a local anesthetic drug via a needle inserted in the low back area.  This numbs the mother from her nipples to her toes, and she stays awake and breathes on her own during surgery.

(3) Inexperienced anesthesia practitioners performing medical care they are not fully capable to handle:  During the first twelve months of a physician’s anesthesia residency, each trainee is closely mentored and restricted to easier surgeries if possible.  Each year in July, new residents enter each residency program and existing residents are advanced from first-year residents to second-year residents, while second year residents become third-year residents.  Each July, every anesthesia trainee faces a new tier of responsibilities and more challenging cases.  The Naomi Jordan case occurred in August, when Dr. Tony Andrews was inexperienced and less than two months into the more challenging second year of residency.  In a teaching hospital, July and August are the least desirable months to be a patient.

Within a few years of Dr. Andrews’ incident, the hospital he trained at changed its staffing, and made it mandatory that an anesthesia faculty member stayed in the hospital all night.  Inexperienced residents would never be called on to handle emergencies alone–a good idea that grew out of the Naomi Jordan case and others.  In addition, the American Board of Anesthesiology added an additional year of required training to all anesthesiologist residencies, so every anesthesiologist left their residency with a minimum of three years of training post-internship instead of just two.

Prior to the Naomi Jordan case, Dr. Andrews was both inexperienced and cocky–a bad combination.  He screwed up the management of her airway, but Dr. Harrington rescued him, and the outcome was excellent. If Dr. Andrews had harmed Naomi Jordan, he would have been known as the anesthesiologist that bumped off a healthy patient.  Despite his previous 800 uneventful anesthetics up to that night, he would be remembered for the one that went bad.  The Naomi Jordan case taught Dr. Andrews a lesson he never forgot.  While he never lost control of another patient’s airway in his years of anesthesia practice after the Jordan case, that wasn’t the lesson he learned.  The lesson Dr. Andrews learned was a lesson every anesthesia provider eventually comes to accept:

You’re only as good as your last anesthetic

 

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 ricknovak.com by clicking on the picture below:  

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DO ANESTHESIOLOGISTS HAVE THE HIGHEST MALPRACTICE INSURANCE RATES?

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

How high are anesthesiology malpractice rates? Do Anesthesiologists pay the highest malpractice insurance rates?

In a word, “No.”

Anesthesia mishaps can lead to critical events such as death or coma, but in recent decades improvements in operating room technology and education have led to fewer such events.

Prior to 1985, anesthesia malpractice claims for death or brain death were most often due to lack of oxygen the patient’s heart or brain.  Two significant breakthroughs arrived in the 1980’s to help anesthesiologists care for you:  1) the pulse oximeter, and 2) the end-tidal carbon dioxide monitor.

The pulse oximeter, developed by Nellcor and Stanford anesthesiologist William New, M.D., is a device that clips to a patient’s fingertip.  A light-emitting diode shines a red light through the finger, and a sensor on the opposite side of the finger measures the degree of redness in the pulsatile blood flow within the finger.  The more red the color of the blood, the more oxygen is present.  A computer in the pulse oximeter calculates a score, called the oxygen saturation, which is a number from 0-100%.  An oxygen saturation equal to or greater that 90% correlates with a safe amount of oxygen in the arterial blood.  A score of 89% or lower correlates with a dangerously low oxygen level in the blood.  The pulse oximeter monitor enables doctors to know, second-to-second, whether a patient is getting sufficient oxygen.  If the oxygen saturation goes below 90%, doctors will act quickly to diagnose and treat the cause of the low oxygen level.  A patient can usually sustain a short period low oxygen saturation, e.g. up to 2 or 3 minutes, without permanent damage to the brain or cardiac arrest by an oxygen-starved heart.

The end-tidal carbon dioxide (CO2) monitor is a device that measures the concentration of CO2 in the gas exhaled by a patient on every breath.  During normal ventilation, every exhaled breath contains CO2.  When no CO2 is measured, there is no ventilation, and the doctor must act quickly to diagnose and treat the cause of the lack of ventilation.

Prior to the invention of these two monitors, it was possible for an anesthesiologist to mistakenly place a breathing tube in a patient’s esophagus, instead of the trachea, and not know of the error until the patient sustained a cardiac arrest.  With the addition of the two monitors, the lack of CO2 (there is no CO2 in the stomach or esophagus) from the end-tidal CO2 monitor immediately indicates that the tube is in the wrong  place.  The anesthesiologist can then remove the tube, resume mask ventilation with oxygen, and attempt to replace the tube into the windpipe.  If the oxygen level to the patient’s blood dips below 90%, this is a second piece of data that indicates that the patient is in danger of brain damage or cardiac arrest.

In addition, in the early 1990’s the American Society of Anesthesiologists created the Difficult Airway Algorithm, which is a step-by-step approach for anesthesiologists to follow when the task of placing a breathing tube for an anesthetic is challenging or difficulty.  This Algorithm dictates a standard of care for practitioners, and this advance in education lowered the number of mismanaged airways.

In the 1980’s, surgical anesthesia claims were 80% of closed malpractice claims against anesthesiologists (American Society of Anesthesiologists Closed Claims database).  By the 2000’s, this number dropped to 65%.   Brain damage represented 9% of claims, and nerve injury accounted for 22% of claims (23% were permanent and disabling, including loss of limb function, or paraplegia or quadriplegia)  Less common claims were airway injury (7% of claims), emotional distress, (5% of claims), eye injuries including blindness (4% of claims), and awareness during general anesthesia (2% of claims).

Decreasing anesthesiologist malpractice premiums reflect the decrease in the number of catastrophic anesthesia claims for esophageal intubation, death, and brain death.

In 1985, the average malpractice insurance premium was $36,224 per year for a $1 Million per claim/$3 Million per year policy.   By 2009, this decreased to $21,480, a striking 40% drop.(Anesthesia in the United States 2009, Anesthesia Quality Institute)

Specialties with the highest risk of facing malpractice claims are neurosurgery (19.1 percent), thoracic and cardiovascular surgery (18.9 percent) and general surgery (15.3 percent). Specialties with the  lowest risks are family medicine (5.2 percent), pediatrics (3.1 percent) and psychiatry (2.6 percent).  Anesthesiologists rank in the middle of the pack, at 7%.  (Malpractice Risk According to Physician Specialty, Jena, et al, N Engl J Med 2011) From 1991 to 2005, this article identified 66 malpractice awards that exceeded $1 million dollars, which accounted for less than 1% of all payments. Obstetrics and gynecology accounted for the most payments (11), followed by pathology (10), anesthesiology (7), and pediatrics (7).

The take-home message is that anesthesia has serious risks, but those risks have decreased significantly in recent years because of improvements in monitoring and education.  Compared to other specialties, the risk of an anesthesiologist being sued is about average among American medical specialties.

 

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?

 

 

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

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INFORMED CONSENT IN ANESTHESIA: SHOULD YOU TELL PATIENTS THEY COULD DIE?

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

Clinical Case: A 45-year-old woman is scheduled for a hysterectomy.  She is being treated for hypertension, and is otherwise healthy.  During your preoperative discussion, do you explain to her as informed consent that she could die during anesthesia?

Discussion:   “Hi, Mrs. Smith,” the anesthesiologist said.  “It looks like you are in good health. I need to tell you that there is about a 1 in 100,000 chance that you could die from your anesthetic. I need to tell you that so you don’t sue me if you die.  Don’t look so worried, Mrs. Smith.  Do you have any questions?”

“Yes.  What is that sticker on your forehead?” she asked.

“It says ‘I just got out of residency yesterday,’”  the doctor answered with a smile.

Sound absurd?  Let’s start by looking at  data that  is available on anesthetic risks.  A review article by Jenkins and Baker  summarizes the incidence of mortality and morbidity associated with anesthesia.  The authors conducted a Medline search from 1966 to the present for all anesthesia publications with keywords relevant to mortality and morbidity.

Anesthetic-related mortality was found to be rare.   The incidence of death related to anesthesia was 1:50,000, and the incidence in ASA I and II patients was 1:100,000.  Total perioperative mortality within 30 days of surgery was much higher, with rates of 1:200 for elective surgery, and 1:40 for emergency surgery.  Thirty day mortality was two times higher in 60-79 year olds,  five times higher in 80-89 year olds, and  seven times higher in patients over 90 years old.

What were the most common complications of anesthesia?  The complications and their incidences  were:  drowsiness (1:2), sore throat after tracheal tube (1:2), pain (1:3), post-op nausea and vomiting (1:4), dizziness (1:5), headache (1:5), and sore throat after laryngeal mask (1:5).

Informed consent is a discussion of the risks and benefits of the anesthetic proposed, and discussion of any alternative methods available.  It is followed by documentation that the patient understands and consents to the plan.  Our original question today regarded what risks to discuss.  Per Benumof and Saidman (Anesthetic and Perioperative Complications, Mosby, 1999, 781-2), “There must be a balance between giving enough information to allow a reasoned decision and frightening the patient with a long list of potential, extremely rare, severe complications, the latter making a trusting doctor-patient relationship difficult.”

I collected opinions  from  20 private-practice anesthesiologist colleagues at Stanford via e-mail.   Only one of  the twenty replied that he would tell the hysterectomy patient that she could die.  He cited the philosophy that if she consented despite the risk of death, that any smaller complication such as the loss of her singing voice due to the endotracheal tube, was trivial in comparison.

Another private attending disagreed, using the following reasoning, which I agree with:  “If you tell the healthy patient that they could die, and they die, you are still in trouble.   If you  do something negligent and you are sued,  you will lose the lawsuit, despite your anxiety-producing informed consent.”

For healthy patients, most private attendings discuss only the common risks such as drowsiness, pain, nausea, and sore throat.  Many  ask if the patient wants to know any more details about more serious risks.  If the patient wants to, the anesthesiologist will then give more information about incidence of serious complications, possibly quoting numbers such as the 1:50,000 to 1:100,000 noted above.  Others will reassure each patient with a statement such as  “anesthesia is safer than the risk you take each time you drive your car on a freeway,” implying that you could  have a  bad outcome in either situation, yet not using the words “you could die.”  For less healthy patients, older patients,  emergency or more complex surgeries, the increased risks  are discussed  so the patient can make a well-informed choice.

In discussing the risks of anesthesia to healthy patients, I commonly say, “The chance that any serious complication to your heart, lungs, brain, or blood pressure is very close to zero, but it’s not zero.  If anything unexpected occurs, I will be right there with you the entire time, and based on my training and experience, I will do the right thing for you.”  This sentence informs them that although risks are rare, risks are possible, and reassures the patient that their anesthesiologist is there to treat any unexpected problems.

The purpose of obtaining consent is to  give the patient  enough information to make an informed decision whether to agree to the anesthetic plan, or not.  Most private-practice anesthesiologists at Stanford would handle the informed consent for today’s patient without telling her she could die.  Patients are nervous enough when they put on the gown and hop onto that gurney before surgery.

 

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

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