REGARDING THE FRENCH ANESTHESIOLOGIST ACCUSED OF MURDER

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
RMJAPURVG5IFIP5JZYX75LU3QY A French anesthesiologist was accused of poisoning patients to trigger cardiac arrests during surgery. Nine patients died. Dr. Frédéric Péchier is apparently suspected of injecting lethal doses of potassium chloride or anesthetics into intravenous bags either prior to or during simple surgeries. This allegedly caused patients to have cardiac arrests, giving Dr. Péchier  a setting to arrive on scene quickly after the event and “rescue” the patients. It is alleged that this gained him the respect of fellow doctors and the admiration of his victims. The 47-year-old physician denied the charges. Prosecutors said Péchier was the only medical doctor present during all the incidents where traces of poison were found or when the overdoses were diagnosed. Frederic Pechier was arrested and now stands charged in twenty-four cases, nine of which resulted in death. He worked as an anesthesiologist in the eastern French city of Besançon. I have no inside knowledge on the cases except for what has been reported in the lay press, but I can present a possible and plausible explanation for what the prosecutors are theorizing. Let’s begin with a discussion of intravenous (IV) potassium injection. In the 1990s Dr. Jack Kevorkian devised an assisted-suicide machine for patients who wanted to end their lives. The machine gave three sequential IV injections. The first drug was sodium pentothal, which induced sleep. The second drug was pancuronium, which paralyzed the muscles and stopped movement and breathing. The third drug was potassium chloride, which caused cardiac arrest and stopped the heartbeat. IV potassium in high doses is lethal. I authored a chapter on Disorders of Potassium Balance in Complications in Anesthesia, 3rdEdition, 2017, edited by Drs. Lee Fleisher and Stanley Rosenbaum. Potassium plays an important role in the chemistry of excitable cells such as cardiac muscle cells. Potassium is the principal cation or element inside the cells, and disorders of potassium balance can cause life-threatening arrhythmias. More than 98% of total body potassium is located inside cells, rather than in the bloodstream. The normal serum potassium concentration in the bloodstream is 3.5-5.3 mEq/L, but the potassium concentration inside a cell is about 30-40 times higher. When the serum potassium level rises acutely, cardiac arrythmias result. A high index of suspicion is required to diagnose an elevated concentration of potassium in the bloodstream (hyperkalemia). Acute hyperkalemia presents with electrocardiogram (ECG) changes including  narrowed peaked T waves, widening of the QRS complex, and progression to ventricular tachycardia, fibrillation, or a cessation of the heartbeat. Normal healthy patients almost never have hyperkalemia. Dialysis patients who are without functioning kidneys are at the highest risk for hyperkalemia. Other causes of hyperkalemia are massive transfusion due to the potassium accumulated in blood bags during preservation, episodes of massive cell damage such as major trauma or third-degree burns, or accidental iatrogenic injections of intravenous potassium in a medical  setting. The treatment of hyperkalemia is very specific. The cardiac effects of hyperkalemia are reduced by calcium gluconate or calcium chloride, which antagonize the effect of the elevated potassium concentration on heart cell membranes. As well, administration of intravenous glucose and insulin decreases the serum potassium concentration by shifting potassium from the bloodstream into cells.   If the French patients had acute hyperkalemia due to a massive overdose of potassium injected into an IV bag, an initial presentation would likely be cardiac rhythm disturbances which deteriorated into ventricular fibrillation and a cardiac arrest. This would not respond to traditional therapy such as shocking the patient or administering IV adrenalin, because the etiology of the problem—hyperkalemia—would remain untreated. If a physician somehow guessed that the serum potassium was elevated and administered IV calcium followed by IV insulin and glucose, this could lead to successful resuscitation. However, we must note that there is no time to measure the blood potassium level in an acute setting such as a cardiac arrest, and there would be no reason at all for a healthy patient undergoing a routine surgery to have an acute hyperkalemic episode. If a healthy patient had a cardiac arrest and a doctor guessed that calcium, insulin, and glucose would revive the patient, and if the potassium concentration in the patient’s blood was assayed later and found to be markedly elevated, then this would be a very suspicious set of circumstances. Let’s move on to the discussion of an overdose of IV local anesthetic drug.  An IV injection of the local anesthetic bupivacaine (Marcaine) in a high concentration is known to cause cardiac arrest. There is only one reliable and specific antidote for an overdose of IV bupivacaine, and that is the IV injection of intralipid. If a healthy patient had a cardiac arrest and a doctor guessed that an injection of intralipid would revive the patient, and if the bupivicaine concentration in the patient’s blood was assayed later and found to be markedly elevated, then this would also be a very suspicious set of circumstances. How could these drugs—potassium or bupivacaine—ever wind up in a patient’s IV? I am forced to speculate, but consider this:  Prior to surgery all patients have an IV placed in their arm and a liter bag of fluid—either sodium chloride or Lactated Ringer’s solution—is attached to that IV. The IV line is the route in which anesthesiologists inject drugs into the patient’s bloodstream to induce sleep. The contents of the plastic IV bag of 1000 milliliters of normal saline or Lactated Ringer’s solution drips into the patient’s bloodstream over the first hour of surgery. If an individual injected a toxic dose of potassium or bupivacaine into the liter bag, in an undetected fashion in a preoperative setting, then that toxic dose would be infused over the first hour of the anesthetic when the individual who introduced the toxin is not present in the operating room at all. When the cardiac arrest predictably occurs, the individual could arrive on scene with the antidote of either calcium-insulin-glucose or intralipid, and be cited as a hero. Once again, at this time I have no specific knowledge about the medical evidence from France, But let’s hope none of the facts point to murder. I’m a great believer in the professionalism of physicians, and I would prefer that nothing illegal, immoral, or unethical happened with these cases. Stay tuned in the months to come to learn what evidence is presented, and eventually we’ll all learn what happened in the trial of Dr. Frédéric Péchier. * * 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 RICK NOVAK.COM BY CLICKING ON THE PICTURE BELOW:

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SMOOTH EMERGENCE FROM GENERAL 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

Anesthesiologists prefer their patients to have a gentle transition from the anesthetized state into the awake state. The desired goal is “smooth emergence.” When the general anesthetic requires an endotracheal tube, an issue is how to awaken the patient with minimal patient coughing and bucking while the tube remains in the trachea. Coughing and bucking are associated with increases in blood pressure and heart rate, as well as increased intrathoracic pressure, intracranial pressure, intraocular pressure, and increased bleeding or edema in head and neck surgeries.

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An anesthesia colleague wrote to me several months ago, asking for my recommendations for achieving smooth emergence. His question prompted me to write this column.

In a previous column I opined on the virtues of awake extubation rather than deep extubation. I remain convinced that awake extubation is the preferred and safest practice for almost every patient. What can we do to reduce the agitation, coughing, bucking, hypertension, and tachycardia that can occur with awake extubation?

I’ve performed countless general anesthetics for surgeries requiring smooth emergence, specifically carotid endarterectomies, rhinoplasties, facelifts, craniotomies, thyroidectomies, and other head and neck procedures. In each of these surgeries, the surgeon has an intense interest in a gentle anesthesia wake-up, free of coughing, bucking, or hypertension.

 Miller’s Anesthesia (2015, Eighth edition, Chapter 70, 2158-99) discusses this topic in the chapter “Anesthesia for Neurologic Surgery,” written by lead author John C. Drummond. The chapter states the following:

  1. “There is a paucity of systematically obtained clinical data to give a perspective to the actual magnitude of the risks associated with emergences that are not considered smooth.”
  2. “We encourage trainees to include in their anesthetic technique as much narcotic as is consistent with spontaneous ventilation at the conclusion of the procedure.”
  3. “We also have the bias that patients emerge more rapidly and smoothly when the last inhaled anesthetic to be withdrawn is nitrous oxide and that clinicians should seek to avoid the ‘neither here nor there’ phase of anesthesia that occurs in patients who are stimulated in the face of residual exhaled concentrations of volatile anesthetic on the order of 0.2 to 0.3 MAC.”
  4. “A common practice among neuroanesthetists near the conclusion of a craniotomy is the relatively early discontinuation of the volatile anesthetic with supplementation, if necessary, of residual nitrous oxide with propofol by either bolus increments or infusion at rates in the range of 12.5 to 25 μg/kg/hr.”
  5. “We commonly administer 1.5 mg/kg of intravenous lidocaine just before the head movement associated with applying the dressing.”
  6. “Because of the premium placed on minimizing coughing and straining and hypertension, there may be a temptation to extubate from the trachea before complete recovery of consciousness. This may be acceptable in some circumstances. However, it should be undertaken with caution . . . it would, in general, be best to wait until the likelihood of the patient’s recovery of consciousness is confirmed or until patient cooperation and airway reflexes are likely to have recovered.”

I’d make the following observations to adapt these recommendations to non-neurosurgical patients:

  1. It’s true there’s a paucity of data on the “best” way to achieve smooth emergence. Multiple papers have been published, each studying a small series of patients and examining a different regimen for emergence. The number of patients in these series is small, and none of the papers are linked to improved outcomes.
  2. Regarding the appropriate amount of narcotic, I recommend dosing the narcotic as required to treat post-operative pain, and no more. In certain surgeries such as a rhinoplasty or a facelift, the surgeon will inject local anesthetic to blunt the bulk of postoperative pain. Additional intravenous narcotic may decrease the stimulus of an endotracheal tube in situ, but the extra narcotic doses come with the risk of increased narcotic side effects, i.e. nausea and sedation.
  3. Contrary to the recommendations in Miller’s Anesthesia, my practice for years has been to discontinue nitrous oxide first, and to continue a low inspired concentration of 1% sevoflurane in 100% oxygen for the last five minutes of general anesthetics. I’ve found it effective for smooth emergence, following the additional suggestions listed and numbered in the second half of this column below. In addition, the 100% oxygen supplies an extra margin of safety prior to extubation.

Based on 32 years of practice and over 25,000 personally administered anesthetics, these are my suggestions to maximize the smooth emergence of intubated patients:

  1. Utilize the “no touch” extubation technique as described by Tsui in Anesthesia and Analgesia in 2004. At the conclusion of adenotonsillectomy in children, once volatile anesthetics were discontinued, no further stimulation was applied to the patients, i.e. no suctioning, or repositioning. No laryngospasm, oxygen desaturation, or severe coughing occurred in any patient. Sheta also reported on this “no touch” technique in a prospective, randomized, single-blinded, comparative study. Sixty adult nasal or sinus surgery patients were randomized to standard awake intubation technique vs. a “no touch” extubation technique. There was no laryngospasm among patients who were extubated with the “no touch” technique. The control group had a higher statistical incidence in the number and severity of desaturation episodes, incidence of non-purposeful movement, biting, and hoarseness (P< 0.05). Significant oozing from the wound was less in the “no touch” group. (P < 0.05). Hemodynamic responses (tachycardia or hypertension) prior to extubation were significantly less in the “no touch” group (P<0.05).
  2. Utilize intratracheal lidocaine (e.g. 4 cc of 4% lidocaine) at the time of intubation.  Minogue showed that intratracheal lidocaine decreased coughing on emergence for anesthetics < 2 hours in duration.
  3. If the patient begins to wake earlier than desired, administer 50 mg increments of propofol for the typical 70 kg adult patient, to deepen anesthetic depth temporarily as needed.
  4. If the patient develops hypertension or tachycardia prior to extubation, administer 5-10 mg increments of labetolol IV as needed.
  5. Your primary value regarding extubation must be safety. While a patient’s coughing or bucking may displease the surgeon, your clinical practice of anesthesia must be based on the maintenance of Airway-Breathing-Circulation. Waiting until your patient is awake enough to maintain their own airway safely is more important than trying to keep the surgeon happy because he or she doesn’t like to see any bucking.

Data exists to support the use of dexmedotomidine or remifentanil to smooth emergence. Because of the expense of these medications, neither is part of my routine extubation protocol. Representative studies on these two drugs include:

  • Dexmedotomidine: Lee JS, et al, studied adults undergoing elective thyroidectomy under sevoflurane anesthesia. Patients were randomized to receive either dexmedetomidine 0.5 μg/kg IV (Group D, n = 70) or saline (Group S, n = 71), each combined with a low-dose remifentanil infusion ten minutes before the end of surgery. Results showed the addition of this single dose (0.5 μg/kg) of dexmedetomidine duringemergence from sevoflurane-remifentanil anesthesia was effective in attenuating coughing and hemodynamic changes, and did not exacerbate respiratory depression.
  • Remifentanil: Lee JH, et al, studied seventy female patients undergoing thyroidectomy under general anesthesia using sevoflurane and remifentanil. Patients were randomly assigned to IV lidocaine(Group L, n=35) or remifentanil (Group R, n=35). In Group L, at the end of surgery both the sevoflurane and the remifentanil infusion were stopped, and lidocaine 5 mg/ml was administered IV. In Group R, the remifentanil infusion was continued until extubation. The incidence of cough during the emergence was significantly higher in the lidocaine group than in the remifentanil group (72.7% vs. 20.6%, P<0.001), and so was the grade of cough (P<0.001). The authors concluded that an infusion of remifentanil reduced responsiveness to the tracheal tube during emergence from general anesthesia more effectively than IV lidocaine in female patients undergoing thyroid surgery.

A recent study by Nath et al. showed a decrease in emergence coughing with by preloading of endotracheal tube cuffs with alkalinized lidocaine. Two hundred patients were randomly assigned to alkalinized lidocaine (2 ml 2% lidocaine + 8 ml of 8.4% sodium bicarbonate) or 10 ml of saline prefilled into the endotracheal tube cuff 90 minutes prior to intubation. Results showed a significantly decreased incidence of coughing on emergence in the lidocaine group. In addition, the study showed the incidence of coughing was inversely related to the amount of narcotic used in the anesthetic, i.e. more narcotic —> less emergence coughing.

Anesthesia practice is both an evidence-based science and an experienced-based art. There will be multiple recipes for smooth emergence. You may choose the advice from Miller’s Anesthesia, you may choose my recommendations from theanesthesiaconsultant.com, or you may choose an entirely different method that includes dexmedotomidine or remifentanil.

May all your patients emerge safely and smoothly.

May you, in the words of the Sade song, be a “Smooth Operator.”

 

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:

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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