FIVE MINUTES . . . TO AVOID ANOXIC BRAIN INJURY

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

Anoxic brain injury. These three words make any anesthesiologist cringe. In layman’s terms, anoxic brain injury, or anoxic encephalopathy, means “the brain is deprived of oxygen.”

Five minutes stopwatch

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In an anesthetic disaster the brain can be deprived of oxygen. Without oxygen, brain cells die, and once they die they do not regenerate. If something dire goes wrong during anesthesia and surgery and the flow of oxygen to the brain is cut off, an anesthesia practitioner has about five minutes to diagnose the cause of the problem and treat it. Some brain cells start dying within five minutes after the oxygen supply disappears, and brain hypoxia can rapidly cause severe brain damage or death. (1,2)

In malpractice cases I’ve consulted on, a five-minute window is an accepted duration for low blood oxygen levels to cause permanent brain damage.

The good news is that catastrophic events causing sudden drops in oxygen levels are very rare during anesthesia. I’ve reviewed the risks of anesthesia in the 21st Century in a previous column, which I refer you to.

Miller’s Anesthesia is the premier textbook in anesthesiology. I respect Miller’s Anesthesia as an outstanding reference, but a keyword search for “anoxic encephalopathy” in Miller’s Anesthesia only links to two chapters: one on temperature regulation, and second on pediatric intensive care. The topic of anoxic encephalopathy as related to anesthesia disasters and brain death—a issue that can ruin both a patient’s life and an anesthesiologist’s career—is not specifically covered in Miller’s Anesthesia.

Anesthesiologists are human, and human error is known to seep into anesthesia care. Miller’s Anesthesia, Chapter 7 on Human Performance and Patient Safety,3 makes several statements pertinent to human error:

“. . . anesthesia professionals themselves, both as a profession and as individuals, have strengths and vulnerabilities pertaining to their work environment. The performance of human beings is incredibly flexible and powerful in some aspects but very limited in others. Humans are vulnerable to distractions, biases, and errors.”  

“The stakes are high because even for elective surgery in healthy patients, there is an ever-present and very real risk of injury, brain damage, or even death. A catastrophe is often the end result of many pathways that begin with seemingly innocuous triggering events. . . .”

“Because more than 70% of all errors in medicine can be attributed to problems with human factors rather than problems with knowledge or practical skills, the impact of human factors cannot be overestimated.

My impression, based on 34 years in an anesthesia career, is that some anesthesia practitioners perform better under pressure. Just like Joe Montana had the knack for doing the right thing on a football field when the pressure was on, and just like Sully (Chesley Sullenberger) made correct decisions when the jet engines of US Airways Flight 1549 were knocked out by collisions with birds shortly after takeoff, some anesthesia practitioners perform well under intense pressure . . . and some don’t.

Let me present two examples, inspired by real cases, of relatively healthy young patients who had unexpected hypoxic (low oxygen) episodes. These patients had drastically different outcomes due to different anesthetic care:

CASE 1.

A 40-year-old male presented for outpatient septoplasty surgery. His past medical history was positive for obesity (weight=100 kg with a BMI=32) and hypertension. His preoperative vital signs were normal with an oxygen saturation of 98%.

Anesthesia was induced with propofol 250 mg, fentanyl 100 micrograms, and rocuronium 50 mg IV. An endotracheal tube was easily placed, and breath sounds were equal bilaterally. Anesthesia was maintained with oxygen, nitrous oxide, and sevoflurane 1.5%, and incremental doses of 50 micrograms of fentanyl.

The surgery concluded 2 hours later, and the nitrous oxide and sevoflurane were discontinued. The patient began to cough, and reached up to try to pull out his endotracheal tube. The anesthesiologist decided to extubate the trachea. After extubation the patient was making respiratory efforts, but no airflow was noted. A jaw thrust attempt to break suspected laryngospasm was ineffective. The oxygen saturation dropped to 78%.

  • Succinylcholine 40 mg was administered. There was no improvement in the oxygenation or airway.
  • Two minutes later a second dose of succinylcholine 60 mg was administered. There was continued inability to move oxygen.
  • Two minutes later, a #4 LMA was placed, with continued inability to move oxygen.
  • Two minutes later the anesthesiologist attempted to reintubate the trachea. The first attempt was unsuccessful due to poor visibility. The oxygen saturation dropped to 50%.
  • Seven minutes after the initial oxygen desaturation to 78%, a second laryngoscopy using a GlideScope was successful, and a 7.0 ET tube was placed. Copious secretions were suctioned out of the ET tube. Ventilation remained difficult and peak inspiration pressures were high. The patient continued to be hypoxic. The patient’s ECG deteriorated into pulseless electrical activity (PEA), and chest compressions were initiated. Epinephrine 1 mg was administered IV twice, the peripheral pulses returned, and chest compressions were stopped.
  • Twenty minutes after the oxygen desaturation to 78%, the oxygen saturation finally rose to 94%. A chest x-ray showed pulmonary edema. The diagnosis was laryngospasm leading to negative pressure pulmonary edema. Furosemide 20 mg was administered IV. The patient remained on a ventilator in the ICU for seven days, at which time he was declared brain dead.

 

CASE 2.

A 30-year-old male was scheduled for maxillary and mandibular osteotomies for obstructive sleep apnea. He was otherwise healthy. He weighed 80 kg and had a BMI=26. His preoperative vital signs were normal.

Anesthesia was induced with propofol 250 mg and rocuronium 50 IV, and a right cuffed nasal endotracheal tube was placed. Breath sounds were bilateral and equal. Anesthesia was maintained with sevoflurane 1.5%, nitrous oxide 50%, propofol 50 mcg/kg/hr, and incremental doses of 50 mcg fentanyl. The surgery concluded 4 hours later. The surgeons wired the upper and lower teeth together. The propofol, sevoflurane, and nitrous oxide were discontinued.

The patient opened his eyes ten minutes later, and responded appropriately to conversation. The endotracheal tube was removed, and the patient’s airway was patent. He was moved to the gurney, the back of the gurney was elevated 30 degrees, and a non-rebreather mask with a 10 liters/minute flow rate of oxygen was strapped over his face. The anesthesiologist then transported the patient down the hallway to the PACU. En route the patient became more somnolent and developed upper airway obstruction resistant to jaw thrust maneuvers.

  • On arrival at the PACU the patient was nonresponsive, and his initial oxygen saturation was 75%. The anesthesiologist began mask ventilation via an Ambu bag, and the oxygen saturation rose to 90%. The patient was making ventilatory efforts without significant air movement.
  • The wires fixating the maxilla and mandible together were severed with a wire cutter.
  • The anesthesiologist attempted laryngoscopy with a Miller 2 blade, and was unable to visualize the larynx because of frothing fluid bubbling in the oropharynx. A presumptive diagnosis of negative pressure pulmonary edema was made, and a GlideScope was called for. The oxygen saturation was 88%.
  • After suctioning the frothy fluid which filled the oropharynx, a second laryngoscopy attempt with the GlideScope yielded successful placement of a 7.0 oral endotracheal tube. Pulmonary edema fluid was suctioned from the lumen of the endotracheal tube, and furosemide 20 mg was injected IV. The oxygen saturation rose to 98% on 100% oxygen.

The duration of time from when the patient’s oxygen level was discovered to be 75% until his oxygen level rose above 90% was two minutes. The duration of time from when the patient’s oxygen level was discovered to be 75% until the trachea was successfully reintubated was four minutes.

The patient remained intubated in the ICU for two nights, with diagnoses of upper airway edema post maxillary-mandibular osteotomies and negative pressure pulmonary edema. He was extubated on post-op day #3, when he successfully passed a cuff-leak test. His oxygen saturations were normal and his brain was undamaged. He walked out the hospital alive and well.

Case #1 and Case #2 were similar in that both patients were young relatively healthy men having head and neck surgery. The expected risk of serious complication for each procedure was low. The expected risk of death, or of brain death, was extremely small. Yet one man died and the other survived.

Why?

In Case #1, a case study based on a closed claim malpractice settlement, the delays in anesthesia care led to prolonged low oxygen levels, and these prolonged low oxygen levels caused anoxic brain damage. The deviations from the standard of care included:

  1. The patient was extubated too early, at a time when he was still partially anesthetized, in a transitional phase of anesthesia, and not yet awake. The safest technique for extubation is awake extubation, when the patient is an awake state of eye opening and obeying commands. Per the Difficult Airway Society Guidelines for the Management of Tracheal Extubation, an awake intubation is when “the patient’s eyes are open and the patient is responsive to commands.”4 This patient had head and neck surgery, and was at risk for post-operative airway problems. Extubating before the patient opened his eyes and obeyed verbal commands was a deviation from the standard of care.
  2. Once the patient developed post-extubation laryngospasm, the standard of care was for the anesthesiologist to act immediately to relieve airway obstruction and correct hypoxemia. Laryngospasm can lead to hypoxia, as it did in this case. The order of treatment is A-B-C, or Airway–Breathing–Circulation. When the immediate application of jaw thrust and continuous positive airway pressure via facemask was unsuccessful, and the oxygen saturation dropped into the 70’s, the standard of care was to immediately paralyze the patient with an intubating dose of succinylcholine (1 mg/kg IV) and to reinsert an endotracheal tube. Per Difficult Airway Society Guidelines for the Management of Tracheal Extubation, “If laryngospasm persists and/or oxygen saturation is falling: (administer) succinylcholine 1 mg/kg intravenously. Worsening hypoxia in the face of continuing severe laryngospasm with total cord closure . . . requires immediate treatment with intravenous succinylcholine. The rational for 1 mg/kg is to provide cord relaxation, permitting ventilation, re-oxygenation and intubation should it be necessary.”4 The entire time from the onset of laryngospasm to the successful control of the airway and ventilation of the lungs in Case #1 exceeded 20 minutes.

When a bad outcome like this occurs in a hospital or surgery center, a facility’s Quality Assurance Committee examines the details of the case—not to assign blame—but to identify flaws in patient care systems which must be improved in the future.

When a patient’s family hires a lawyer to investigate a bad outcome, the same analysis of the medical record and the medical details occurs, but the stakes are different. Physicians and facilities carry malpractice insurance with limits in the millions of dollars. If a physician or a facility is found to have performed below the standard of care, and if that negligent performance is found to have caused patient damage, they may well lose a malpractice settlement. The minute-by-minute pulse oximetry data will be scrutinized during any ensuing malpractice trial or deposition, with an aim to document how many minutes the oxygen saturation was critically low. A time frame of five minutes or greater of hypoxia in the medical record can be damning for the anesthesiologist’s case.

In the Miller’s Anesthesia chapter titled Human Performance and Patient Safety, Drs. Rall and Gaba describe 15 Key Points of Crisis Resource Management (CRM).3 Highlights of the Key Points include:

  • CRM Key Point 2. Anticipate and Plan. “Anesthesia professionals must consider the requirements of a case in advance and plan for the key milestone. They must imagine what could go wrong and plan ahead for each possible difficulty. Savvy anesthesia professionals expect the unexpected, and when it does strike, they then anticipate what could happen next and prepare for the worst.”
  • CRM Key Point 3. Call for Help Early.
  • CRM Key Point 4. Exercise Leadership and Followership With Assertiveness. “A team needs a leader. Someone has to take command, distribute tasks, collect information, and make key decisions. . . . Followers are key members of the team who listen to what the team leader says and do what is needed.”
  • CRM Key Point 8. Use All Available Information. “Information sources include those immediately at hand (the patient, monitors, the anesthesia record), secondary sources such as the patient’s chart, and external sources such as cognitive aids (see later) or even the Internet.”
  • CRM Key Point 11. Use Cognitive Aids. “Cognitive aids—such as checklists, handbooks, calculators, and advice hotlines—come in different forms but serve similar functions. They make knowledge “explicit” and “in the world” rather than only being implicit, in someone’s brain.” An example cognitive aid is the Stanford Emergency Manual, which I recommend.5

Dr. David Gaba, one of the authors of this chapter, is a longtime friend of mine and a pioneer in the fields of anesthesia simulator design and crisis management. I respect this list of 15 CRM Key Points, but I also know that when the clock is ticking on those five minutes of patient hypoxia, there is no time to think through 15 items. There is no time for any wasted effort or motions. The anesthesia provider must captain the ship and restore oxygenation without delay. The anesthesia provider needs a plan embedded in his or her brainstem that allows them to keep the patient safe.

Based on my experience as both a practicing anesthesiologist for over 30 years and an expert witness for over 15 years, when your patient’s oxygen level drops acutely, these are the things you need to DO:

  1. First off, turn your oxygen supply to 100% oxygen. Turn off all nitrous oxide or air input.
  2. Call for help.
  3. Think A-B-C, or Airway-Breathing-Circulation, in that order.
  4. Examine the patient, particularly their airway and lungs.
  5. If the patient is not already intubated, and you cannot mask ventilate the patient to a safe oxygen level, intubate the trachea immediately to deliver 100% oxygen via controlled ventilation. Use succinylcholine, the fastest emergency paralytic drug.
  6. If you cannot intubate the patient with a traditional Miller 2 or Mac 3 blade, request a GlideScope videoscope ASAP. (Have the American Society of Anesthesiologists Difficult Airway Algorithm committed to memory.)
  7. Have the Stanford Emergency Manual5 in your operating room suite, and ask a registered nurse to recite the Cognitive Aid Checklist for HYPOXEMIA to you, to make sure you haven’t missed something.
  8. If the patient is still not improving, reaffirm your assessments of A-B-C. Fix the Airway, fix the B, then fix the Circulation.
  9. Remember: ACLS (Acute Cardiac Life Support) is important, but ACLS is C, and if A and B are faulty, the cardiac care of ACLS will not save the brain.

Other advice to anesthesiologists:

  • Before a hypoxic emergency occurs in your practice, do yourself and your patients a favor by passing the American Board of Anesthesiologists oral board examination. The time spent studying for the oral boards will make you a safer and smarter anesthesiologist who is better prepared to handle emergency situations. A study in the journal Anesthesiology showed rates for death and failure to rescue from crises were greater when anesthesia care was delivered by non-board certified midcareer anesthesiologists.6 In the Stanford Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, we administer mock oral board examinations to the residents and fellows twice a year. Presenting an examinee with a sudden hypoxic episode is a common occurrence during the exam. If you can think well in a room in front of two examiners, you are more likely to think well in a true hypoxemic emergency when your patient’s life is at stake.
  • A second tip: If you have access to anesthesia simulator sessions, enroll yourself.

What if you’re a patient reading this? What if you’re contemplating surgery? How can you optimize your chances to avoid an anesthetic disaster?

I offer these suggestions:

  • Choose to have your surgery at a facility that is staffed with American Board of Anesthesiology board-certified physician anesthesiologists.
  • Ask a knowledgeable medical professional to recommend a specific anesthesiologist at your facility, and request that specific anesthesiologist for your care.
  • Inquire about who would manage your crisis if you have one during or after your surgery. Will your anesthesia professional be a physician anesthesiologist, a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), or an anesthesia care team made up of both? If an anesthesia care team is attending to you, how many rooms is each physician anesthesiologist supervising? How far away or how many minutes away will your physician anesthesiologist be while you are asleep?
  • In the future, quality of care data will be available on facilities and physicians, including anesthesiologists. These metrics will allow patients to compare facilities and physicians. Do your homework with whatever data is publicized. Research the facility you are about to be anesthetized in.
  • If you’re a higher risk patient, i.e. you have: significant obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, heart problems, breathing problems, age > 65, or you’re having regular dialysis, emergency surgery, abdominal surgery, chest surgery, major vascular surgery, cardiac surgery, brain surgery, regular dialysis, total joint replacement, or a surgery with a risk of high blood loss . . . be aware you’re at a higher risk, and ask more questions of your surgeon and your anesthesia provider.
  • If yours is an elective surgery, realize you have time to heed the advice in this column. Take your time to choose your surgeon, your facility, and your anesthesia provider if you can.

None of us, anesthesia providers or the families of patients, want to be sitting in a courtroom for a malpractice trial because there were five bad minutes without oxygen.

References:

  1. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001435.htm
  2. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000013.htm
  3. Rall M, Gaba D, et al. Human Performance and Patient Safety. Miller’s Anesthesia, Chapter 7, Eighth Edition, p 106-166.
  4. Popat M, Mitchell V, et al. Difficult Airway Society Guidelines for the management of tracheal extubation, Anaesthesia 2012, 67, 318-340.
  5. Stanford Anesthesia Cognitive Aid Group. Emergency Manual: Cognitive aids for perioperative clinical events. *Core contributors in random order: Howard SK, Chu LK, Goldhaber-Fiebert SN, Gaba DM, Harrison TK http://emergencymanual.stanford.edu/
  6. Silber JH et al. Anesthesiologist Board Certification and Patient Outcomes. Anesthesiology.2002 May;96(5):1044-52.

 

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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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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

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:

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WAS JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA’S DEATH FROM OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA?

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

Justice Antonin Scalia’s death was unexpected. I’ve never examined Justice Scalia, never had access to his medical records, and have no information other than what has been published over the Internet regarding the events of the last 24 hours of his life. According to published news reports, APNewsBreak: Justice Scalia Suffered From Many Health Problems, the Justice suffered from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and hypertension.

220px-antonin_scalia_scotus_photo_portrait

As an experienced anesthesiologist, I’ve personally watched over 25,000 patients sleep during my career. Thousands of these patients carried the diagnosis of OSA. I’ve witnessed first hand what happens when a patient with OSA obstructs their airway and stops breathing during sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a chronic condition of cyclic obstruction of the upper airway during sleep, usually combined with excessive daytime sleepiness and loud snoring.Apnea is the medical word for the suspension or stopping of breathing. Observation of at least five obstructive events (apneic events) per hour of sleep during a formal sleep study is a minimal criterion for diagnosing OSA in adults.

Let’s discuss a hypothetical male patient. He is 79 years old, overweight, and has a thick neck. Perhaps he is a Supreme Court Justice, and perhaps he is not. Because of his age and his body habitus, he’s at risk for the diagnosis of OSA, but we have no knowledge of any sleep study to document this.

We’re going to sedate this patient for a medical procedure. Intravenous sedative drugs will include some combination of a benzodiazepine such as Versed, a narcotic such as fentanyl, and a hypnotic such as propofol. The procedure does not require a breathing tube, so we’ll administer the sedation and be vigilant regarding what happens to the patient’s vital signs. As with all anesthetics, the patient will be fully monitored for heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, and exhaled carbon dioxide level.

This is what happens when we administer strong sedatives to this hypothetical male patient who is 79 years old, overweight, and who has a thick neck:

  1. With the onset of sleep, the rate of breathing becomes slower and the volume of each breath decreases.
  2. Because of the decrease in ventilation, the oxygen saturation level will drop.
  3. As anesthesiologists, we administer oxygen via nasal cannula or via a mask, and the oxygen saturation will increase to a safe level again.
  4. If we progress to administering deeper sedation, the patient’s airway will obstruct. Typically this occurs because the base of the tongue drops back and occludes the airway, or redundant tissue in the oral pharynx relaxes and occludes the airway. With partial obstruction, we hear the patient snore, but ventilation continues. With total obstruction, the patient’s chest moves in an attempt to draw in a breath, but there is no ventilation through the obstructed upper airway.
  5. If this airway obstruction is not remedied, the oxygen saturation will drop below a safe level of 90%. At these low blood oxygen levels, the brain and heart will be deprived of necessary oxygen. A prolonged low blood oxygen level can lead to life threatening cardiac dysrhythmias or a cardiac arrest.
  6. With a physician anesthesiologist present, the airway obstruction is relieved by applying a jaw lift, extending the patient’s neck, inserting an oral airway, or inserting an airway tube.
  7. Without an anesthesiologist present, the patient could die.

In a related scenario, what if our hypothetical male patient who is 79 years old, overweight, and who has a thick neck doesn’t have medical sedation, but rather has a long busy day at 4,400 feet of altitude, and perhaps consumes alcohol with its attendant sedative effects, along with perhaps a sleeping pill or an oral narcotic analgesic taken to relieve the symptoms of a painful shoulder ailment? All of these factors (fatigue, altitude, alcohol, medications) serve to make a patient more sedated. Heavy sleep accompanied by snoring ensues. The partial airway obstruction of snoring progresses to the total airway obstruction of obstructive sleep apnea. The blood oxygen level drops, the heart is denied adequate oxygen delivery, and the patient suffers a cardiac arrhythmia and then a cardiac arrest.

Is this a “heart attack?”

Every one of us will die one day, and every one of our deaths will be accompanied by a heart that ceases to beat. The cause of the “heart attack” will differ for each of us. If someone has significant narrowing of a major coronary artery and attempts to run up a mountain, this event may increase the oxygen demand of the heart and precipitate a lethal heart rhythm. When a hypothetical male patient who is 79 years old, overweight, and who has a thick neck dies in the middle of the night, you can bet the cessation of the heart beat was due to airway obstruction and inadequate oxygen to the heart.

According to APNewsBreak, on the morning the Justice was found dead “a breathing apparatus was found on the night stand next to Scalia’s bed when his body was found, but he was not hooked up to it and it was not turned on.” Most likely this was a CPAP machine, or a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine. A CPAP machine includes a mask which the patient straps over their nose or over their nose and mouth prior to going to sleep. The CPAP machine delivers a stream of compressed air via a hose to the nose mask or the full-face mask, splinting the airway to keep it open under air pressure so unobstructed breathing becomes possible. The main problem with a CPAP machine is non-compliance, that is, the patient refuses to wear it. This was seemingly the case with Justice Scalia’s last night.

A take home message from this column is to respect the specter of OSA in your own life and in the lives of your loved ones. If you are a physician, respect the specter of OSA in your patients. Persons with an increased risk of OSA include people older than 60 years of age, patients with hypertension, prior strokes, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, obesity, or the metabolic syndrome including hyperlipidemia and diabetes. The most common symptoms are excessive daytime sleepiness and loud snoring. Persons who fit this profile should undergo a formal sleep study to screen for OSA. Most formal sleep studies require overnight monitoring of breathing patterns and oxygen saturation. The studies are not cheap, so screening every elderly obese snorer in America would be expensive. However, a diagnosis of OSA can lead to a cascade of effective therapies, including:  1) an oral orthodontic appliance to keep the jaw advanced, or 2) a continuous positive airway pressure machine to be worn while sleeping, or 3) airway surgeries on the palate, uvula, mandible, and/or maxilla, or 4) aggressive treatment of the OSA comorbidities of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimates that 25 million Americans may have OSA, and up to 90 percent of these patients are undiagnosed.

Questions will continue to swirl around the circumstances of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. Was there a pillow over his head, as was first described by John Poindexter, the owner of the ranch who first discovered Scalia’s body? Were sedating medications or alcohol present in his bloodstream? Why did Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara pronounce Scalia dead of natural causes without even seeing the body? Why was no autopsy ordered? Was the Justice murdered, as if this was the plot of some John Grisham legal thriller?

We may never know the answers to these questions, but query most any anesthesiologist about the likelihood that OSA was involved in the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and the answer you will get is . . .

“Yes, with a high degree of medical probability, obstructive sleep apnea is what killed Justice Antonin Scalia.”

 

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

 

 

DOES GENERAL ANESTHESIA CAUSE DEMENTIA?

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

 

Does exposure to general anesthesia cause dementia?

In a word, “No.”

dementia2075

A landmark study published in Anesthesiology Dokkedal U et al, Cognitive Functioning after Surgery in Middle-aged and Elderly Danish Twins. Anesthesiology. 2016 Feb;124(2):312-21  answers this question. Dokkedal studied 8,503 middle-aged and elderly Danish twins. Results from cognitive tests were compared in twins in which one sibling was exposed to surgery and the other was not. A history of major surgery was associated with a negligibly lower level of cognitive functioning, but there was no difference by interpair analysis, that is, when compared to their twin. There was no clinically significant association of major surgery and anesthesia with long-term cognitive dysfunction, suggesting that factors other than surgery and anesthesia, such as preoperative cognitive functioning and underlying diseases, were more important for cognitive functioning in mid- and late life than surgery and anesthesia.

(For readers who are not medical professionals, cognitive function includes reasoning, memory, attention, and language, the attainment of information and, thus, knowledge. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia equate to a chronic loss of these cognitive functions.)

Because Dokkedal’s study looked at a large number of patients, and each of these patients had a twin, it is considered a statistically powerful study.

A second recent study published in the same month, (Sprung J et. al., Association of Mild Cognitive Impairment With Exposure to General Anesthesia for Surgical and Nonsurgical Procedures: A Population-Based Study. Mayo Clin Proc. 2016 Feb;91(2):208-17)  examined 1731 Minnesota residents aged 70 – 89. Of these, 536 out of the 1731 developed Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) during a median follow-up of 4.8 years. All of their anesthesia records for surgeries after the age of 40 were reviewed. The authors found no significant association between the cumulative exposure to surgical anesthesia after 40 years of age and the development of Mild Cognitive Impairment.

In an editorial accompanying the Dokkedal study, (Avidan MS, Evers AS, The Fallacy of Persistent Postoperative Cognitive Decline, Anesthesiology. 2016 Feb:124(2);255-258.) Avidan and Evers wrote, “It is similarly tragic when adults older than 50 yr forego quality of life-enhancing surgery based largely on hypothesis-generating cohort studies and a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy dating to a 1955 report by Bedford in the Lancet, which suggested that persistent Postoperative Cognitive Decline was a concern following complaints from patients and their families regarding problems with cognitive function after surgery. . . . older patients should today be reassured that surgery and anesthesia are unlikely to be implicated in causing persistent cognitive decline or incident dementia.”

This editorial exposes the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, i.e. after this, therefore because of this, which has in the past led individuals to postulate that because a patient shows cognitive decline after surgery and anesthesia, that the cognitive decline must have been caused by surgery and anesthesia.

The authors of the editorial also admit that the first time detection of cognitive decline or dementia can be noted postoperatively for several reasons, including 1) cognitive decline or dementia are common in an aging population, approximately 50% of patients over the age of 60 undergo surgery, and the cognitive decline or dementia may first be detected at a time following surgery; 2) the preoperative trajectory of cognitive decline or dementia is rarely assessed, and postoperative cognitive decline or dementia is a continuation of the preoperative decline; 3) rapid onset cognitive decline or dementia can occur, and at times this decline will manifest and coincide with the time following surgery and anesthesia; and 4) it is difficult to change a firmly held conviction of past researchers, clinicians, and the general public that cognitive decline or dementia are caused by surgery and anesthesia.

The take home message is this: If you or one of your loved ones are over the age of 60 and need a surgical procedure to improve the quality of life, there should be no reluctance to have the surgery because of the fear of postoperative cognitive decline or dementia.

 

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

 

 

THE TOP 10 MOST STRESSFUL JOBS IN AMERICA versus THE TOP 10 MOST STRESSFUL SITUATIONS IN ANESTHESIOLOGY PRACTICE

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

Anesthesia has been described as 99% boredom and 1% panic. Is anesthesiology one of America’s most stressful jobs? Not according to prominent Internet media sources.

Careercast.com listed the Top 10 Most Stressful Jobs in America in 2015, and those jobs were:

  1. Firefighter
  2. Enlisted Military Personnel
  3. Military General
  4. Airline Pilot
  5. Police Officer
  6. Actor
  7. Broadcaster
  8. Event Coordinator
  9. Photo Journalist
  10. Newspaper Reporter.

ABCnews.go.com listed the Top 10 Most Stressful Jobs in America in 2014, and those jobs were:

  1. Working Parents
  2. Deployed Military Personnel
  3. Police Officer
  4. Teacher
  5. Medical Professionals (The article highlighted surgeons for their need to constantly focus, psychiatrists for their need to intently listen, dentists for being on their feet all day, and interns for their lack of sleep).
  6. Emergency Personnel (The article highlighted firefighters and emergency medical technicians).
  7. Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers
  8. Newspaper Reporters
  9. Corporate Executive
  10. Miner

Salary.com listed the Top 10 Most Stressful Jobs in America, and those jobs were:

  1. Military Personnel
  2. Surgeon
  3. Firefighter
  4. Commercial Airline Pilot
  5. Police Officer
  6. Registered Nurse in an Emergency Room
  7. Emergency Dispatch Personnel
  8. Newspaper Reporter
  9. Social Worker
  10. Teacher

“Anesthesiologist” is absent from every list. This is a public relations failure for our specialty. The challenges and stressors anesthesia professionals face every day are seemingly unknown to the media and the populace.

I’ll admit there are pressures involved with being a taxi driver, a news reporter, a photo journalist, an events coordinator, or a public relations executive. Being a working parent is a challenge, although in Northern California where I live millions of adults are working parents because both husbands and wives have to work to pay hefty Bay Area living expenses. But none of these jobs involve the risk and possibility of their clients dying each and every day.

Every surgical patient requires the utmost in vigilance from their physician anesthesiologist in order to prevent life-threatening disturbances of Airway-Breathing-Circulation. The public perceives surgeons as holding patients’ life in their skilled hands, and they are correct. But most surgeons spend the majority of their work time in clinics and on hospital wards attending to pre-operative and post-operative patients. On the 1 – 3 days a week most surgeons spend operating, they are joined in the operating room by anesthesiologists who attend to surgical patients’ lives every day.

Surgeons in trauma, cardiac, neurologic, abdominal, chest, vascular, pediatric, or microsurgery specialties have intense pressure during their hours in the operating room, but each time they don their sterile gloves and hold a scalpel, an anesthesiologist is there working with them.

What follows is my own personal “Top 10 Most Stressful” list, a list of the Most Stressful Anesthesia Situations based on my thirty years of anesthesia practice. Anesthesia practice has been described as 99% boredom and 1% panic, (http://theanesthesiaconsultant.com/is-anesthesia-99-boredom-and-1-panic) and the 1% panic times can be frightening. Read through this list. I believe it will convince you that the job of an anesthesiologist deserves to be on everyone’s Top 10 Most Stressful Jobs list.

TOP 10 MOST STRESSFUL SITUATIONS IN AN ANESTHESIOLOGIST’S JOB

  1. Emergency general anesthesia in a morbidly obese patient. Picture a 350-pound man with a bellyful of beer and pizza, who needs an emergency general anesthetic. When a patient with a Body Mass Index (BMI) > 40 needs to be put to sleep urgently, it’s dangerous. Oxygen reserves are low in a morbidly obese patient, and if the anesthesiologist is unable to place an endotracheal tube safely, there’s a genuine risk of hypoxic brain damage or cardiac arrest within minutes.
  1. Liver transplantation. Picture a patient ill with cirrhosis and end-stage-liver-failure who needs a complex 10 to 20-hour-long abdominal surgery, a surgery whichfrequently demands massive transfusion equal to one blood volume (5 liters) or more. These cases are maximally stressful in both intensity and duration.
  1. An emergency Cesarean section under general anesthesia in the wee hours of the morning. Picture a 3 a.m. emergency general anesthetic on a pregnant woman whose fetus is having cardiac decelerations (a risky slow heart rate pattern). The anesthesiologist needs to get the woman to sleep within minutes so the baby can be delivered by the obstetrician. Pregnant women have full stomachs and can have difficult airway because of weight changes and body habitus changes of term pregnancy. If the anesthesiologist mismanages the airway during emergency induction of anesthesia, both the mother and the child’s life are in danger from lack of oxygen within minutes.
  1. Acute epiglottitis in a child. Picture an 11-month-old boy crowing for every strained breath because the infection of acute epiglottis has caused swelling of his upper airway passage. These children arrive at the Emergency Room lethargic, gasping for breath, and turning blue. Safe anesthetic management requires urgently anesthetizing the child with inhaled sevoflurane, inserting an intravenous line, and placing a tracheal breathing tube before the child’s airway shuts down. A head and neck surgeon must be present to perform an emergency tracheostomy should the airway management by the anesthesiologist fails.
  1. Any emergency surgery on a newborn baby. Picture a one-pound newborn premature infant with a congenital defect that is a threat to his or her life. This defect may be a diaphragmatic hernia (the child’s intestines are herniated into the chest), an omphalocele (the child’s intestines are protruding from the anterior abdominal wall, spina bifida (a sac connected to the child’s spinal cord canal is open the air through a defect in the back), or a severe congenital heart disorder such as a transposition of the great vessels (the major blood vessels: the aorta, the vena cavas and the pulmonary artery, are attached to the heart in the wrong locations). Anesthetizing a patient this small for surgeries this big requires the utmost in skill and nerve.
  1. Acute anaphylaxis. Picture a patient’s blood pressure suddenly dropping to near zero and their airway passages constricting in a severe acute asthmatic attack. Immediate diagnosis is paramount, because intravenous epinephrine therapy will reverse most anaphylactic insults, and no other treatment is likely to be effective.
  1. Malignant Hyperthermia. Picture an emergency where an anesthetized patient’s temperature unexpectedly rises to over 104 degrees Fahrenheit due to hypermetabolic acidotic chemical changes in the patient’s skeletal muscles. The disease requires rapid diagnosis and treatment with the antidote dantrolene, as well as acute medical measures to decrease temperature, acidosis, and high blood potassium levels which can otherwise be fatal.
  1. An intraoperative myocardial infarction (heart attack). Picture an anesthetized 60-year-old patient who develops a sudden drop in their blood pressure due to failed pumping of their heart. This can occur because of an occluded coronary artery or a severe abnormal rhythm of their heart. Otherwise known as cardiogenic shock, this syndrome can lead to cardiac arrest unless the heart is supported with the precise correct amount of medications to increase the pumping function or improve the arrhythmia.
  1. Any massive trauma patient with injuries both to their airway and to their major vessels. Picture a motorcycle accident victim with a bloodied, smashed-in face and a blood pressure of near zero due to hemorrhage. The placement of an airway tube can be extremely difficult because of the altered anatomy of the head and neck, and the management of the circulation is urgent because of the empty heart and great vessels secondary to acute bleeding.
  1. The syndrome of “can’t intubate, can’t ventilate.” You’re the anesthesiologist. Picture any patient to whom you’ve just induced anesthesia, and your attempt to insert the tracheal breathing tube is impossible due to the patient’s anatomy. Next you attempt to ventilate oxygen into the patient’s lungs via a mask and bag, and you discover that you are unable to ventilate any adequate amount of oxygen. The beep-beep-beep of the oxygen saturation monitor is registering progressively lower notes, and the oximeter alarms as the patient’s oxygen saturation drops below 90%. If repeated attempts at intubation and ventilation fail and the patient’s oxygen saturation drops below 85-90% and remains low, the patient will incur hypoxic brain damage within 3 – 5 minutes. This situation is the worst-case scenario that every anesthesia professional must avoid if possible. If it does occur, the anesthesia professional or a surgical colleague must be ready and prepared to insert a surgical airway (cricothyroidotomy or tracheostomy) into the neck before enough time passes to cause irreversible brain damage.

So goes my list of Top 10 List of Stressful Anesthesia situations. If you’re an anesthesia professional, what other cases would you include on the list? Which cases would you delete? How many of these situations have you personally experienced?

This Top 10 Stressful Situations in Anesthesiology list should be enough to convince you that “Anesthesiologist” belongs on everyone’s Most Stressful Jobs list.

I would reassemble the Top 10 List of Most Stressful Jobs to be as follows:

The Anesthesia Consultant’s List of Top 10 Most Stressful Jobs

  1. Enlisted military personnel
  2. Military general in wartime
  3. Police Officer
  4. Firefighter
  5. Anesthesiologist
  6. Surgeon
  7. Emergency Room Physician
  8. Airline Pilot
  9. Air Traffic Controller
  10. Corporate Chief Executive Officer

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

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

 

 

HERBAL MEDICINES, SURGERY, 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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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?

 

 

*
*
*
*

Published in September 2017:  The second edition of THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN, Dr. Novak’s debut novel, a medical-legal mystery which blends the science and practice of anesthesiology with unforgettable characters, a page-turning plot, and the legacy of Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan.

KIRKUS REVIEW

In this debut thriller, tragedies strike an anesthesiologist as he tries to start a new life with his son.

Dr. Nico Antone, an anesthesiologist at Stanford University, is married to Alexandra, a high-powered real estate agent obsessed with money. Their son, Johnny, an 11th-grader with immense potential, struggles to get the grades he’ll need to attend an Ivy League college. After a screaming match with Alexandra, Nico moves himself and Johnny from Palo Alto, California, to his frozen childhood home of Hibbing, Minnesota. The move should help Johnny improve his grades and thus seem more attractive to universities, but Nico loves the freedom from his wife, too. Hibbing also happens to be the hometown of music icon Bob Dylan. Joining the hospital staff, Nico runs afoul of a grouchy nurse anesthetist calling himself Bobby Dylan, who plays Dylan songs twice a week in a bar called Heaven’s Door. As Nico and Johnny settle in, their lives turn around; they even start dating the gorgeous mother/daughter pair of Lena and Echo Johnson. However, when Johnny accidentally impregnates Echo, the lives of the Hibbing transplants start to implode. In true page-turner fashion, first-time novelist Novak gets started by killing soulless Alexandra, which accelerates the downfall of his underdog protagonist now accused of murder. Dialogue is pitch-perfect, and the insults hurled between Nico and his wife are as hilarious as they are hurtful: “Are you my husband, Nico? Or my dependent?” The author’s medical expertise proves central to the plot, and there are a few grisly moments, as when “dark blood percolated” from a patient’s nostrils “like coffee grounds.” Bob Dylan details add quirkiness to what might otherwise be a chilly revenge tale; we’re told, for instance, that Dylan taught “every singer with a less-than-perfect voice…how to sneer and twist off syllables.” Courtroom scenes toward the end crackle with energy, though one scene involving a snowmobile ties up a certain plot thread too neatly. By the end, Nico has rolled with a great many punches.

Nuanced characterization and crafty details help this debut soar.

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

41wlRoWITkL

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

DSC04882_edited

 

 

SUCCINYLCHOLINE: VITAL DRUG OR OBSOLETE DINOSAUR?

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

Succinylcholine: vital drug or dinosaur? Succinylcholine (sux) has the wonderful advantage of rendering a patient paralyzed in less than a minute, and the discouraging disadvantage of a long list of side effects that make the drug problematic.

succinylcholine_chloride_10_med-21

A vial of succinylcholine

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

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

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

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

Now that sugammadex is commercially available, we can reverse rocuronium blockade in seconds, making rocuronium shorter in duration than succinylcholine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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?

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

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:

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

 

 

IS YOUR GRANDMOTHER TOO OLD FOR 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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

This column is for my non-medical layperson readers. Your 85-year-old grandmother had two gallstone attacks in the past 6 months. Is she too old for surgery? Is it safe for her to have her gallbladder removed?

 

It depends. A general surgeon would serve as the consultant as to the natural history of the gallbladder disease. He may opine that future gallstone attacks are likely, and that the severe pain and fever of acute cholelithiasis is possible.

If your grandmother was 50 years old, you’d expect the surgical team to operate on her. For an 85-year-old patient, the surgical prognosis depends on her medical condition. She needs preoperative assessment from a specialist, and that specialist would be an anesthesiologist.

At Stanford University the anesthesia department is known as the Department of Anesthesia, Perioperative and Pain Medicine. The word perioperative refers to medical practice before, during, and after surgical operations. Preoperative assessment refers to the medical work-up before a surgical procedure—the work-up which establishes that all necessary diagnostic and therapeutic measures have been taken prior to proceeding to the operating room.

Age alone should not be a deterrent to surgery. Increased life expectancy, safer anesthesia, and less invasive surgical techniques such as laparoscopy have made it possible for a greater number of geriatric patients to undergo surgical intervention. The decision to operate should not be based on age alone, but should be based on an assessment of the risk-to-benefit ratio of each individual case. Surgical risk and outcome in patients 65 years old and older depend primarily on four factors: (1) age, (2) whether the surgery is elective or urgent, (3) the type of procedure, and (4) the patient’s physiologic status and coexisting disease. (reference: Miller’s Anesthesia, Chapter 71, Geriatric Anesthesia, 7th Edition, 2009).

Let’s look at each of these four factors:

1)   Age. Data support that increasing age increases risk.  Complication rates and mortality rates are higher for patients in their 80’s than for patients in their 60’s.

2)   Emergency surgery. Patients presenting for emergency surgery are often sicker than patients for elective surgery, and have increased risk.  There may be insufficient time for a full preoperative medical workup or tune-up prior to anesthesia.

3)   Type of procedure. A trivial procedure such as finger or toe surgery carries significantly less risk than open heart surgery or intra-abdominal surgery.

4)   Coexisting disease. The American Society of Anesthesiologists has a classification system for patients which categorizes how healthy or sick a patient is (see the American Society of Anesthesiologists Physical Status Class categories below). A patient with severe heart or lung disease is at higher risk than a rigorous patient who hikes, bikes or swims daily without heart or lung pathology.

Let’s examine these four factors in your 85-year-old grandmother. Regarding factor (1), she is old, and therefore she carries increased risk solely because of her advanced age. Regarding factor (2), her surgery is non-emergent, and this is in her favor. Regarding factor (3), her procedure requires intra-abdominal surgery, which is more invasive and carries more cardiac and respiratory risk than a trivial hand or foot or cataract surgery. She’ll have to cope with post-operative abdominal pain and pain on deep breathing, each of which can affect her lung function after anesthesia. Factor (4), her pre-existing medical history and physical condition, is the key element in her pre-operative consult.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists Physical Status Class categorizes patients as follows:

Class I   – A normal healthy patient. Almost no one over the age of 65 is an ASA I.

Class II  – A patient with mild systemic disease.

Class II  – A patient with severe systemic disease.

Class IV – A patient with severe systemic disease that is a constant threat to life.

Let’s say your grandmother has well-treated hypertension, asthma, hyperlipidemia, and obesity. She is reasonably active without limiting heart or lung disease symptoms, and she can climb two flights of stairs without shortness of breath.

She is an ASA Class II.

What if your grandmother had a past heart attack which left her short of breath walking up two flights of stairs, or she has kidney failure and is on dialysis, or she has severe emphysema that leaves her short of breath walking up two flights of stairs? These problems make her an ASA Class III, and she is at higher risk than a Class II patient.

If your 85-year-old grandmother is short of breath at rest or has angina at rest, due to either heart failure or chronic lung disease, she is an ASA Class IV patient, and she is at very high risk for surgery and anesthesia.

Laypersons can access an online surgical risk calculator, sponsored by the American College of Surgeons, at www.riskcalculator.facs.org, and enter the specific data for any surgical patient, to estimate surgical risk.

If your grandmother has well-treated hypertension, asthma, hyperlipidemia, and obesity as described above, then her operative risk is moderate and most anesthesiologists will be comfortable giving her a general anesthetic. The American College of Surgeons risk calculator estimates her risk of death, pneumonia, cardiac complications, surgical site infection, or blood clots as < 1%. Her risk of serious complication is estimated at 2%.

How will the anesthesiologist proceed?

For an 85-year-old patient, most anesthesiologists will require a written consultation note from an internal medicine primary care doctor or a cardiologist prior to proceeding with anesthesia. The anesthesiologist will then confirm that all necessary diagnostic and therapeutic measures have been done prior to surgery. Routine lab testing is not be ordered because of age alone, but rather pertinent lab tests are done as indicated for the particular medical problems of each patient.

The anesthesiologist then explains the risks of anesthesia and obtains informed consent prior to the surgery. He or she will explain that an 85-year-old patient with treated hypertension, asthma, hyperlipidemia, and obesity has a higher chance of heart, lung, or brain complications than a young, healthy patient. Your grandmother will have to accept the risks as described by the anesthesiologist.

What do anesthesiologists do differently for geriatric anesthetics, in contrast to anesthesia practice on young patients?

(1) Anesthesiologists use smaller doses of drugs on elderly patients than they do on younger patients. Geriatric patients are more sensitive to anesthetic drugs, and the effect of the drugs will be more prolonged.

(2) Geriatric patients have progressive loss of functional reserve in their heart, lungs, kidney, and liver systems. The extent of these changes varies from patient to patient, and each patient’s response to surgery and anesthesia is monitored carefully. (Miller’s Anesthesia, Chapter 71, Geriatric Anesthesia, 7th Edition, 2009). The anesthesiologist’s routine monitors will include pulse oximetry, electrocardiogram, automated blood pressure readings, temperature monitoring, and monitoring of all inspired gases and anesthetic concentrations. Because most anesthetic drugs cause decreases in blood pressure, anesthesiologists slowly titrate additional anesthetic doses as needed, and remain vigilant for blood pressure drops that are excessive or unsafe.

What about mental decline following geriatric surgery?

Postoperative short-term decrease in intellect (decrease in cognitive test performance) during the first days after surgery is well documented, and typically involves decreases in attention, memory, and fine motor coordination. Early cognitive decline after surgery is largely reversible by 3 months. The reported incidence of cognitive dysfunction after major noncardiac surgery in patients older than 65 years is 26% at 1 week and 10% at 3 months. (reference: Johnson T, Monk T, Rasmussen LS, et al: Postoperative cognitive dysfunction in middle-aged patients. Anesthesiology 2002; 96:1351-1357).

In conclusion, the decision to proceed with your grandmother’s surgery and anesthesia requires an informed assessment of the benefit of the surgery versus the risks involved. Well-trained anesthesiologists anesthetize 85-year-old patients every day, with successful outcomes. My advice is to choose a medical center with fine physician anesthesia providers, and heed their consultation regarding whether your grandmother poses any unacceptable risk for surgery and anesthesia.

 

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

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

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

Will I Have a Breathing Tube During Anesthesia?

What Are the Common Anesthesia Medications?

How Safe is Anesthesia in the 21st Century?

Will I Be Nauseated After General Anesthesia?

What Are the Anesthesia Risks For Children?

 

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

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?

 

 

 

*
*
*
*

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:  

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SEVEN DEADLY DRUGS IN AN ANESTHESIOLOGIST’S DRAWER

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

As anesthesiologists we are the only physicians who routinely prescribe and administer injectable medications ourselves. Most physicians write orders for medications. Registered nurses then administer the medications on hospital wards, in intensive care units, in emergency rooms, and in clinics. As anesthesiologists we have our own drug cart, stocked with dozens of medications, including hypnotics, paralyzing drugs, cardiovascular drugs, antibiotics, anti-nausea drugs, anti-inflammatory drugs, and resuscitation drugs. There are Seven Deadly Drugs in an anesthesiologist’s drawer.

drug ampoules in an anesthesia drawer

Typically, we make a decision to inject a drug, then open the ampoule, draw the contents of the ampoule into a syringe, and inject it into the patient … without the approval, input, or monitoring of any other healthcare provider.

Do medication errors occur? Yes they do, because anesthesiologists are human, and to err is human. In a survey conducted in Japan between 1999 and 2002 in more than 4,291,925 cases, the incidence of critical incidents due to drug administration error was 18.27/100,000 anesthetics. Cardiac arrest occurred in 2.21 patients per 100,000 anesthetics. Causes of death were overdose or selection error involving non-anesthetic drugs, 47.4%; overdose of anesthetics, 26.3%; inadvertent high spinal anesthesia, 15.8%; and local anesthetic intoxication, 5.3%. Ampoule or syringe swap did not lead to any fatalities. (Irita K, et al. Critical incidents due to drug administration error in the operating room: an analysis of 4,291,925 anesthetics over a 4 year period. Masui 2004; 53(5):577–84. )

In a South African study of 30,412 anaesthetics, anaesthetists reported a combined incidence of one error or near-miss per 274 cases. Of all errors, 36.9% were due to drug ampoule misidentification; of these, the majority (64.4%) were due to similar looking ampoules. Another 21.3% were due to syringe identification errors. No major complication attributable to a drug administration error was reported. (Llewellyn RL, et al. Drug administration errors: a prospective survey from three South African teaching hospitals. Anaesth Intensive Care 2009 ; 37(1):93–8. )

What can be done to eliminate or minimize medication errors? A Japanese study examined the value of color-coding syringes, as follows: blue syringes contained local anesthetics; yellow syringes, sympathomimetic drugs; and white-syringes with a red label fixed opposite the scale, muscle relaxants. Although five syringe swaps were recorded from February 2003 to January 2004 in 5901 procedures prior to the change, they encountered no syringe swaps from February 2004 to January 2005 in 6078 procedures performed after switching to color-coded syringes (P <0.05). (Hirabayashi Y, et al. The effect of colored syringes and a colored sheet on the incidence of syringe swaps during anesthetic management. Masui 2005; 54(9):1060–2.)

Published evidence-based practices to reduce the risk of medication error include the following recommendations:

  1. The label on any drug ampoule or syringe should be read carefully before a drug is drawn up or injected;
  2. The legibility and contents of labels on ampoules and syringes should be optimized according to agreed standards; syringes should always be labeled; formal organization of drug drawers and workspaces should be used;
  3. Labels should be checked with a second person or a device before a drug is drawn up or administered. (Note: this is impractical in the anesthesia world.)
  4. Dosage errors are particularly common in pediatric patients. Technological innovations, including the use of bar codes and various cognitive aids, may facilitate compliance with these recommendations. (Merry AF, Anderson BJ. Medication errors–new approaches to prevention. Paediatr Anaesth 2011; 21(7):743–53.)

Bar-code medication administration (BCMA) systems exist for anesthesiologists to identify the ampoule of each drug at the time of administration. I’m not seeing these devices in widespread use in the United States yet. A pilot study in Great Britain perceived that bar-code readers contributed to the prevention of drug errors. The study concluded that the  technological aspects of its integration into the operating theatre environment, and learning, will require further attention. (Evley R. Confirming the drugs administered during anaesthesia: a feasibility study in the pilot National Health Service sites, UK. Br J Anaesth 2010; 105(3):289–96.)

In addition to the data from the aforementioned publications on the incidences of medication errors, how many medication errors go unpublished and unreported? Many anesthesiologists I know have shared their tales of medication errors, all of which are unpublished and unreported in the medical literature. Some swaps and errors will be inconsequential. Some swaps and errors will prolong an anesthetic, such as when a muscle relaxant paralyzes a patient at an unintended time or dose. Some swaps and errors contain the potential for dire complications.

The ancient Christian world identified Seven Deadly Sins. They were wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. There exist at least seven medications that an anesthesiologist must strive to never inject intravenously in error. I call these the Seven Deadly Drugs.  All are present in the anesthesiologists’ drug drawer or at the operating room pharmacy. They are as follows:

  1. Epinephrine (1mg/1ml ampoule). Epinephrine is an important drug during ACLS to treat asystole and refractory ventricular fibrillation, to treat anaphylaxis, or to be used as an infusion to treat decreased cardiac output. This ampoule is routinely stocked in most drug drawers. If one injects it in error into a healthy patient, major hypertension and tachycardia will ensue.  Think blood pressures in the 250/150 range, and heart rates approaching 200 beats per minute. This can be lethal in elderly patients, or in patients with diminished cardiac reserve.
  2. Phenylephrine (10 mg/1 ml ampoule). Phenylephrine, when injected in 100-microgram doses or used as a dilute infusion, is an important drug to treat hypotension. This ampoule is routinely stocked in most drug drawers. If one injects it in error into a healthy patient, major hypertension will ensue, as well as reflex bradycardia.  Think blood pressures in the 250/150 range, and heart rates dropping below 50 beats per minute. This can be lethal in elderly patients, or patients with diminished cardiac reserve.
  3. Nitroprusside (50 mg/2ml) Nitroprusside, when diluted into an infusion, is an important drug to treat hypertension. If this ampoule is injected undiluted, the patient will experience rapid arterial vasodilation and severe hypotension.
  4. Insulin (100 Units/1ml, 10 ml vial). Insulin is an important medication to treat hyperglycemia. Typical doses range from 5–30 Units, which is a mere 1/20th to 3/10th of one milliliter. An erroneous injection of an insulin overdose to an anesthetized patient can result in severe hypoglycemia and brain death.
  5. Potassium Chloride (20 Meq/10 ml). Potassium chloride is an important treatment for hypokalemic patients. If it is administered erroneously as a bolus, potassium chloride can cause severe ventricular arrhythmias and death.
  6. Heparin (1000 U/ml). Heparin is an important anticoagulant, used routinely in open heart surgery and vascular surgery. If it is administered in error, it can cause unexpected bleeding during surgery.
  7. Isoproterenol (1 mg/5 ml) Isoproterenol can be used as a dilute infusion to increase heart rate in critically ill patients.  One of the hospitals I work at includes an ampoule of isoproterenol in the routine drug drawer, next to ampoules of common medications such as ketorolac (Toradol), hydrocortisone, and promethazine (Phenergan). If one injects a bolus of isoproterenol in error into a healthy patient, major tachycardia and hypertension will ensue. This can be lethal in elderly patients, or patients with diminished cardiac reserve.

What can anesthesiologists do to eliminate the risks of erroneously bolus injecting the Seven Deadly Drugs? This author recommends elimination of major vasopressor drugs such as epinephrine, phenylephrine, and isoproterenol and major vasodilators such as nitroprusside from routine drug drawers. This author recommends elimination of the potent anticoagulant heparin from routine drug drawers. Insulin is routinely sequestered in an operating room refrigerator, and most hospitals have protocols that insulin doses be double-checked by two medical professionals prior to injection. Potassium chloride is routinely sequestered the operating room pharmacy as well, distanced from the anesthesiologist’s routine drug drawer.

Above all, anesthesia practitioners need to be vigilant of the risk of picking up the wrong drug ampoule in error. Read the labels of your ampoules carefully, and take care not to inject any of the Deadly Seven Drugs.

 

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

 

 

KEEPING ANESTHESIA SIMPLE: THE KISS PRINCIPLE

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

Clinical Cases:  You’re scheduled to anesthetize a 70-year-old man for a carotid endarterectomy, a 50-year-old man for an arthroscopic rotator cuff repair, and a 30-year-old woman for an Achilles tendon repair.  What anesthetics would you plan? “Keep It Simple, Stupid…” The KISS principle applies in anesthesiology, too.

 

Discussion:  In 1960, U.S. Navy aircraft engineer Kelly Johnson coined the KISS Principle, an acronym for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” The KISS principle supports that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complex. Simplicity should be a key goal in design, and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. The KISS Principle likely found its origins in similar concepts such as Occam’s razor, Leonardo da Vinci‘s “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and architect Mies Van Der Rohe‘s “Less is more.”

Let’s look at the three cases listed above.  For the carotid surgery, you choose an anesthetic regimen based on dual infusions of propofol and remifentanil, aiming for a rapid wake-up at the conclusion of surgery.  For the arthroscopic rotator cuff repair, you fire up the ultrasound machine and insert an interscalene catheter preoperatively.  After you’ve inserted the catheter, you induce general anesthesia with propofol and maintain general anesthesia with sevoflurane.  For the Achilles repair, you perform a popliteal block preoperatively.  After you’ve performed the block, you induce general anesthesia with propofol, insert an endotracheal tube, turn the patient prone, and maintain general anesthesia with sevoflurane and nitrous oxide.

All three cases proceed without complication.

Ten miles away, an anesthesiologist in private practice is scheduled to do the same three cases.  For each of the three cases she chooses the same anesthetic regimen:  Induction with propofol, insertion of an airway tube (an endotracheal tube for the carotid patient, and a laryngeal mask airway for the shoulder patient and the ACL patient, and an endotracheal tube for the prone Achilles repair), followed by sevoflurane and nitrous oxide for maintenance anesthesia and a narcotic such as fentanyl titrated in as needed for postoperative analgesia.  The carotid patient is monitored with an arterial line, and vasoactive drugs are used as necessary to control hemodynamics.

“Wait a minute!” you say. “Elegant anesthesia requires advanced techniques for different surgeries. Why would a private practitioner do all three cases with nearly identical choices of drug regimen?  Why would a private practitioner fail to tailor their anesthetic plan to the surgical specialty? Total intravenous anesthesia and ultrasound-guided regional anesthesia are important arrows in the quiver of a 21st-century anesthesiologist, aren’t they?”

In my first week in private practice, just months after graduating from the Stanford anesthesia residency program, the anesthesia chairman at my new hospital emphasized relying on the KISS Principle in anesthesia practice.  He stressed that the objective of clinical anesthesia wasn’t to make cases interesting and challenging, but to have predictable and complication-free outcomes. Exposing a patient to extra equipment (two syringe pumps), or two anesthetics (regional plus general) instead of general anesthesia alone, adds layers of complexity, and defies the KISS principle.

There are no data indicating that using two syringe pumps and total intravenous anesthesia will produce a better outcome than turning on a sevoflurane vaporizer.  There are no data demonstrating that combining a regional anesthetic with a general anesthetic for shoulder arthroscopy or Achilles tendon surgery will improve long-term outcome.

The KISS principle opines that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complex, and doing two anesthetics instead of one adds complexity.  I’ve learned that an anesthesiologist should choose the simplest technique that works for all three parties:  the surgeon, the patient, and the anesthesiologist. The hierarchy from most simple to complex might look something like this:  (1) local anesthesia alone, (2) local plus conscious sedation, (3) a regional block plus conscious sedation, (4) general anesthesia by mask, (5) general anesthesia with a laryngeal mask airway, (6) general anesthesia with an endotracheal tube, or (7) general anesthesia plus regional anesthesia combined.  The combination of drugs used should be as minimal and simple as possible.

If all three parties (the surgeon, the patient, and the anesthesiologist) are okay with the patient being awake for a particular surgery, then the simplest of the first three options can be selected.  If any one or all of the three parties wants the patient unconscious, then the simplest option of (4) – (7) can be selected.

I’m not an opponent of regional anesthesia.  Ultrasound-guided regional anesthesia is a significant advance in our specialty for appropriate cases, and substituting regional anesthesia for a general anesthetic is a reasonable alternative. Compared with general anesthesia, peripheral nerve blocks for rotator cuff surgery have been associated with shorter discharge times, reduced need for narcotics, enhanced patient satisfaction, and fewer side effects (Hadzic A, Williams BA, Karaca PE, et al.: For outpatient rotator cuff surgery, nerve block anesthesia provides superior same-day recovery after general anesthesiaAnesthesiology  2005; 102:1001-1007). On the other hand, meta-analysis has demonstrated no long-term difference in outcome between regional and general anesthesia for ambulatory surgery.  (Liu SS, Strodtbeck WM, Richman JM, Wu CL: A comparison of regional versus general anesthesia for ambulatory anesthesia: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trialsAnesth Analg  2005; 101:1634-1642). Why perform combined regional anesthesia plus general anesthesia for minor surgeries?  Are we doing regional blocks just to showcase our new ultrasound skills? If there is an ultrasound machine in the hallway and an ambulatory orthopedic patient on the schedule, these two facts alone are not an indication for a regional block. Patients receive an extra bill for the placement of an ultrasound-guided block, and economics alone should never be a motivation to place a nerve block.

In a painful major orthopedic surgery such as a total knee replacement or a total hip replacement, a regional block can improve patient comfort and outcome. This month’s issue of Anesthesiology a retrospective review of nearly 400,000 patients who had total knee or total hip replacement.  Compared with general anesthesia, neuroaxial anesthesia is associated with an 80% lower 30-day mortality and a 30 – 80% lower risk of major complications (Memtsoudis et al., Perioperative Comparative Effectiveness of Anesthetic Technique in Orthopedic Patients, Anesthesiology. 118(5):1046-1058, May 2013).

Many outpatient orthopedic surgeries performed under straight general anesthesia require only modest oral analgesics afterward.  I had general anesthesia for a shoulder arthroscopy and subacromial decompression last month, and required no narcotic analgesics post-op.  If I’d had an interscalene block, the anesthesiologist could have attributed my comfort level to the placement of the block.  No block was necessary.

Achilles repairs don’t require a combined regional–general anesthetic. Achilles repairs simply don’t hurt very much. One surgeon in our practice does his Achilles repairs under local anesthesia with the patient awake, and the cases go very smoothly.  Other surgeons in our practice insist that a popliteal block be placed prior to general anesthesia for Achilles repairs, a dubious decision because (a) it defies the KISS Principle, and (b) the surgeon has no expertise in dictating anesthetic practice.

Every peripheral nerve block carries a small risk. Although serious complications are unusual, risks include falling; bleeding; local tissue injury, pneumothorax; nerve injury resulting in persistent pain, numbness, weakness or paralysis of the affected limb; or local anesthetic toxicity.  Systemic local anesthetic toxicity occurs in 7.5–20 per 10,000 peripheral nerve blocks (Corman SL et al., Use of Lipid Emulsion to Reverse Local Anesthetic-Induced Toxicity, Ann Pharmacother 2007; 41(11):1873-1877).

Use the simplest anesthetic that works.  Assess whether combined regional–general anesthetics are necessary or wise.  I realize that complex anesthetic regimens are routine aspects of a solid training program, because residents need to leave their training program with a mastery of multiple skills.  But once you’re in private practice, my advice is to take heed of the KISS Principle.

 

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 YOU CANCEL SURGERY FOR A BLOOD PRESSURE OF 178/108?

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

Clinical Case for Discussion:  This month’s question is on hypertension and anesthesia. You are scheduled to anesthetize a 71-year-old male for an arthroscopic rotator cuff repair.  His blood pressure when you meet him in pre-op is 178/108 mmHg.  The nurses and the surgeon are alarmed.  What would you do? Should you cancel surgery for a blood pressure of 178/108?

Discussion:  You assess the patient carefully.  A review of his chart shows he’s been taking anti-hypertensive oral medications for ten years.  His current regimen includes daily atenolol, lisinopril, and amlodipine, with his most recent doses taken this morning with a sip of water.  He was seen in his internist’s office one week ago, and at that time his blood pressure was 140/88.  His cardiac, renal, and neurologic histories are negative.  He walks three miles per day.  His resting EKG shows left ventricular hypertrophy, and his BUN and creatinine are normal.

The patient’s physical exam is unremarkable except that he appears nervous.  Should you cancel the case and send him back to his internist to adjust the blood pressure medical therapy regimen?  Should you lower his blood pressure acutely with intravenous antihypertensive drugs, and then proceed with the surgery?

Hypertension, defined as two or more blood pressure readings greater than 140/90 mm Hg, is a common affliction found in 25% of adults and 70% of adults over the age of 70 (Miller’s Anesthesia, 7th Edition, Chapter 34, Preoperative Evaluation). Over time, hypertension can cause end-organ damage to the heart, arterial system, and kidneys. Hypertensive and ischemic heart disease are the most common types of organ damage associated with hypertension.  Anesthesiologists are always wary of cardiac complications in hypertensive patients.

Chronic hypertension is a serious health hazard.  But what about a single, markedly-elevated blood pressure value prior to elective surgery? Are there any data to guide our decision about whether to proceed with surgery?  There are.  A 2004 publication by Howell is a meta-analysis of 30 studies examining the relationship between hypertensive disease, elevated admission arterial pressure, and perioperative cardiac outcome.  This paper found little evidence for perioperative complications in patients with admission arterial pressures of less than 180 mm Hg systolic or 110 mm Hg diastolic.  This paper recommends that anesthesia and surgery not be cancelled for blood pressures lower than 180/110 mm Hg.

Based on the Howell study, Miller’s Anesthesia recommends that elective surgery be delayed for hypertension until the blood pressure is less than 180/110 mm Hg.

In my prior career as an internal medicine doctor, I saw many hypertensive patients who’d presented for surgery with elevated blood pressures, yet whose blood pressure was adequately controlled in clinic.  The anxiety and stress of anticipated surgery can elevate blood pressure acutely.  If surgery is cancelled because of this hypertension and the patient is referred back to the primary care internist, the blood pressure is often well-controlled in the office setting on the same drug regimen that gave poor blood pressure control on admission to surgery.  A primary care provider will be reluctant to add further medications in the office setting if the blood pressure is not elevated in clinic.

What about emergency surgery?  What if a patient presents for urgent surgery for acute cholecystitis, and his blood pressure is 190/118 mm Hg?  For urgent or emergent surgery, consider titrating intravenous antihypertensive drugs such as labetolol (5–10 mg q 5–10 minutes prn) or hydralazine (5–10 mg q 5–10 minutes prn) to decrease blood pressure prior to initiating anesthesia.  Because the eventual induction of general anesthesia with intravenous and volatile anesthetics will lower blood pressure by vasodilation and cardiac depression, any pre-induction antihypertensives must be titrated with great care.  Once doses of labetolol or hydralazine are injected, there is no way to remove the effect of that drug.  For critically ill patients, consider monitoring with an arterial line and infusing a more titratable and short-acting drug such as nitroprusside for blood pressure control.

Let’s return to the anesthetic for your elective shoulder surgery patient with the blood pressure of 178/108 mmHg. You begin by administering 2 mg of midazolam IV.  Three minutes later his blood pressure decreases to 160/95.  You anesthetize him with 50 micrograms of fentanyl and 140 mg of propofol IV, and insert a laryngeal mask airway.  In the next 20 minutes, while the patient is moved into a lateral position for the surgery, his blood pressure drops to 95/58. Because most anesthetics depress blood pressure by vasodilation or cardiac depression, it’s common for patients such as this one to require intermittent vasopressors to avoid hypotension, especially at moments when surgical stimulus is minimal. One of the recommendations of the Howell study is that intraoperative arterial pressure be maintained within 20% of the preoperative arterial pressure.  This recommendation can be a challenge, especially if the preoperative blood pressure was elevated.   A 20% reduction from 178/108 (mean pressure = 131 mm Hg) would be 146/88.  A 20% reduction from the mean pressure of 131 mm Hg would be a mean pressure of 104 mm Hg.  You choose to treat the patient’s hypotension with 10 mg of IV ephedrine, which raises the blood pressure to 140/85.  Fifteen minutes later, the surgeon makes his incision, and the blood pressure escalates to 180/100.  You treat this by deepening anesthesia with small, incremental doses of fentanyl and propofol.  The surgery concludes, you awaken the patient without complications, and his blood pressure in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit is 150/88 mm Hg.

This pattern of perioperative blood pressure lability is common in hypertensive patients, and will require your vigilance to avoid extremes of hypotension or hypertension. Remember that based on the Howell study, Miller’s Anesthesia recommends elective surgery be delayed for hypertension until the blood pressure is less than 180/110 mm Hg.  Armed with this information, you’ll cancel fewer patients for preoperative hypertension.

 

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

 

 

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

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

 

 

DOES REPEATED GENERAL ANESTHESIA HARM THE BRAINS OF INFANTS AND YOUNG CHILDREN?

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

Recent scholarly publications have raised the question whether repeated exposure to general anesthesia is harmful to the developing brain in infants and young children.  Millions of children have surgery under general anesthesia each year. Is repeated exposure to general anesthesia safe for the developing brain of your child? Let’s look at the evidence.

pediatric anesthesia

In 2011, a retrospective Mayo Clinic study looked at the incidence of learning disabilities (LDs) in a cohort of children born in Olmsted County, Minnesota, from 1976 to 1982.  Among the 8,548 children analyzed, 350 of the children received general anesthesia before the age of 2.  A single exposure to general anesthesia was not associated with an increase in LDs, but children who had two or more anesthetics were at increased risk for LDs.  The study concluded that repeated exposure to anesthesia and surgery before the age of 2 was a significant independent risk factor for the later development of LDs.  The authors could not exclude the possibility that multiple exposures to anesthesia and surgery at an early age adversely affected human neurodevelopment with lasting consequences.

The same group of Mayo Clinic researchers looked at the incidence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children born from 1976 to 1982 in Rochester, Minnesota.  Among the 5,357 children analyzed, 341 ADHD cases were identified.  For children with no exposure anesthesia before the age of 2 years, the cumulative incidence of ADHD at age 19 years was 7.3%  Exposure to multiple procedures requiring general anesthesia was associated with an increased cumulative incidence of ADHD of 17.9%. The authors concluded that children repeatedly exposed to procedures requiring general anesthesia before age 2 years were at increased risk for the later development of ADHD.

Anesthesia scientists decided to study this problem in mice.  In March 2013, researchers at Harvard and other hospitals exposed 6- and 60-day-old mice to various anesthetic regimens. The authors then determined the effects of the anesthesia on learning and memory function, and on the levels of proinflammatory chemicals such as cytokine interleukin-6 in the animals’ brains. The authors showed that anesthesia with 3% sevoflurane for 2 hours daily for 3 days induced cognitive impairment (i.e., unusually poor mental function) and neuroinflammation (i.e., elevated levels of brain inflammatory chemicals such as interleukin-6) in young but not in adult mice. Anesthesia with 3% sevoflurane for 2 hours daily for 1 day or 9% desflurane for 2 hours daily for 3 days caused neither cognitive impairment nor neuroinflammation. Treatment with the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug ketorolac caused improvement in the sevoflurane-induced cognitive impairment. The authors concluded that anesthesia-induced cognitive impairment may depend on age, the specific anesthetic agent, and the number of exposures. The findings also suggested that cellular inflammation in the brain may be the basis for the problem of anesthesia-induced cognitive impairment, and that potential prevention and treatment strategies with NSAIDs may ultimately lead to safer anesthesia care and better postoperative outcomes for children.

The same Harvard research group assessed the effects of sevoflurane on brain function in pregnant mice, and on learning and memory in fetal and offspring mice. Pregnant mice were treated with 2.5% sevoflurane for 2 hours and 4.1% sevoflurane for 6 hours. Brain tissues of both fetal and offspring mice were harvested and immunohistochemistry tests were done to assess interleukin-6 and other brain inflammatory levels.  Learning and memory functions in the offspring mice was determined by using a water maze. The results showed that sevoflurane anesthesia in pregnant mice induced brain inflammation, evidenced by increased interleukin-6 levels in fetal and offspring mice.  Sevoflurane anesthesia also impaired learning and memory in offspring mice. The authors concluded that sevoflurane may induce detrimental effects in fetal and offspring mice, and that these findings should promote more studies to determine the neurotoxicity of anesthesia in the developing brain.

What does all this mean to you if your children need anesthesia and surgery?  Although further studies and further data will be forthcoming, the current information suggests that:  (1) if your child has one exposure to anesthesia, this may constitute no increased risk to their developing brain, and (2) repeated surgery and anesthetic exposure to sevoflurane may be harmful to the development of the brain of children under 2 years of age.  It would seem a wise choice to delay surgery until your child is older if at all possible.

What does all this mean to anesthesiologists?  We’ll be watching the literature for new publications on this topic, but in the meantime it seems prudent to avoid exposing newborns and young children to repeated anesthetics with sevoflurane.  Currently, sevoflurane is the anesthetic of choice when we put children to sleep with a mask induction, because sevoflurane smells pleasant and it works fast.  Children become unconscious within a minute or two.  After a child is asleep, it may be advisable to switch from sevoflurane to the alternative gas anesthetic desflurane, since the Harvard study on mice showed anesthesia with 9% desflurane for 2 hours daily for 3 days caused neither cognitive impairment nor neuroinflammation.  A second alternative is to switch from sevoflurane to intravenous anesthetics alone, e.g., to utilize propofol and remifentanil infusions instead of sevoflurane.

The concept of pediatric anesthesia harming the developing brain was reviewed in the lay press in Time magazine in 2009.  The four articles I summarized above represent the most recent and detailed advances on this topic.  Stay tuned.  The issue of anesthetic risk to the developing brain will be closely scrutinized for years to come.

 

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

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

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

 

 

THE TOP TEN MOST USEFUL ADVANCES AND THE FIVE MOST OVERRATED ADVANCES AFFECTING ANESTHESIA IN THE PAST 25 YEARS

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

In 1986 the American Society of Anesthesiologists adopted pulse oximetry and end-tidal CO2 monitoring as standards of care.  These two monitors were our specialty’s major advances in the 1980’s, and made anesthesia safer for everyone. What are the most significant advances affecting anesthesia since that time? As a clinician in private practice, I’ve personally administered over 20,000 anesthetics in the past quarter century.  Based on my experience and observations, I’ve assembled my list of the Top Ten Most Useful Advances Affecting Anesthesia from 1987-2012.  I’ve also assembled my list of the Five Most Overrated Advances Affecting Anesthesia from 1987-2012.

 

THE TOP TEN MOST USEFUL ADVANCES AFFFECTING ANESTHESIA IN THE PAST 25 YEARS (1987- 2012):

#10. The cell phone (replacing the beeper).  Cell phones changed the world, and they changed anesthesia practice as well.  Before the cell phone, you’d get paged while driving home and have to search to find a payphone.  Cell phones allow you to be in constant contact with all the nurses and doctors involved in your patient’s care at all times.  No one should carry a beeper anymore.

#9. Ultrasound use in the operating room.  The ultrasound machine aids peripheral nerve blockade and catheter placement, and intravascular catheterization.  Nerve block procedures used to resemble “voodoo medicine,” as physicians stuck sharp needles into tissues in search of paresthesias and nerve stimulation.  Now we can see what we’re doing.

#8.  The video laryngoscope.  Surgeons have been using video cameras for decades.  We finally caught up.  Although there’s no need for a video laryngoscope on routine cases, the device is an invaluable tool for seeing around corners during difficult intubations.

#7.  Rocuronium.  Anesthesiologists long coveted a replacement for the side-effect-ridden depolarizing muscle relaxant succinylcholine.  Rocuronium is not as rapid in onset as succinylcholine, but it is the fastest non-depolarizer in our pharmaceutical drawer.  If you survey charts of private practice anesthesiologists, you’ll see rocuronium used 10:1 over any other relaxant.

#6.  Zofran.  The introduction of ondansetron and the 5-HT3 receptor blocking drugs gave anesthesiologists our first effective therapy to combat post-operative nausea and vomiting.

#5.  The Internet.  The Internet changed the world, and the Internet changed anesthesia practice as well.  With Internet access, clinicians are connected to all known published medical knowledge at all times.  Doctors have terrific memories, but no one remembers everything.  Now you can research any medical topic in seconds. Some academics opine that the use of electronic devices in the operating room is dangerous, akin to texting while driving.  Monitoring an anesthetized patient is significantly different to driving a car.  Much of O.R. monitoring is auditory.  We listen to the oximeter beep constantly, which confirms that our patient is well oxygenated.  A cacophony of alarms sound whenever vital signs vary from norms.  An anesthesia professional should never let any electronic device distract him or her from vigilant monitoring of the patient.

#4.  The ASA Difficult Airway Algorithm.  Anesthesia and critical care medicine revolve around the mantra of “Airway-Breathing-Circulation.”  When the ASA published the Difficult Airway Algorithm in Anesthesiology in 2003, they validated a systematic approach to airway management and to the rescue of failed airway situations.  It’s an algorithm that we’ve all committed to memory, and anesthesia practice is safer as a result.

#3.  Sevoflurane.  Sevo is the volatile anesthetic of choice in community private practice, and is a remarkable improvement over its predecessors.  Sevoflurane is as insoluble as nitrous oxide, and its effect dissipates significantly faster than isoflurane.  Sevo has a pleasant smell, and it replaced halothane for mask inductions.

#2.  Propofol.  Propofol is wonderful hypnotic for induction and maintenance.   It produces a much faster wake-up than thiopental, and causes no nausea.  Propofol makes us all look good when recovery rooms are full of wide-awake, happy patients.

#1.  The Laryngeal Mask Airway.  What an advance the LMA was.  We used to insert endotracheal tubes for almost every general anesthesia case.  Endotracheal tubes necessitated laryngoscopy, muscle relaxation, and reversal of muscle relaxation.  LMA’s are now used for most extremity surgeries, many head and neck surgeries, and most ambulatory anesthetics.

THE FIVE MOST OVERRATED ADVANCES AFFECTING ANESTHESIA IN THE PAST 25 YEARS (1987-2012):

#5.   Office-based general anesthesia.  With the advent of propofol, every surgeon with a spare closet in their office became interested in doing surgery in that closet, and they want you to give general anesthesia there.  You can refuse, but if there is money to be earned, chances are some anesthesia colleague will step forward with their service.  Keeping office general anesthesia safe and at the standard of care takes careful planning regarding equipment, monitors, and emergency resuscitation protocols.  Another disadvantage is the lateral spread of staffing required when an anesthesia group is forced to cover solitary cases in multiple surgical offices at 7:30 a.m.  A high percentage of these remote sites will have no surgery after 11 a.m.

#4.  Remifentanil.  Remi was touted as the ultra-short-acting narcotic that paralleled the ultra-short hypnotic propofol.  The problem is that anesthesiologists want hypnotics to wear off fast, but are less interested in narcotics that wear off and don’t provide post-operative analgesia.  I see remi as a solid option for neuroanesthesia, but its usefulness in routine anesthetic cases is minimal.

#3.  Desflurane.  Desflurane suffers from not being as versatile a drug as sevoflurane.  It’s useless for mask inductions, causes airway irritation in spontaneously breathing patients, and causes tachycardia in high doses.  Stick with sevo.

#2.  The BIS Monitor.  Data never confirmed the value of this device to anesthesiologists, and it never gained popularity as a standard for avoiding awareness during surgery.

#1.  The electronic medical record.  Every facet of American society uses computers to manage information, so it was inevitable that medicine would follow. Federal law is mandating the adoption of EMRs.  But while you are clicking and clicking through hundreds of Epic EMR screens at Stanford just to finish one case, anesthesiologists in surgery centers just miles away are still documenting their medical records in minimal time by filling out 2 or 3 sheets of paper per case. Today’s EMRs are primitive renditions of what will follow. I’ve heard the price tag for the current EMR at our medical center approached $500 million.  How long will it take to recoup that magnitude of investment?  I know the EMR has never assisted me in caring for a patient’s Airway, Breathing, or Circulation in an acute care setting.  Managing difficulties with the EMR can easily distract from clinical care.  Is there any data that demonstrates an EMR’s value to anesthesiologists or perioperative physicians?

Your Top Ten List and Overrated Five List will differ from mine.  Feel free to communicate your opinions to me at rjnov@yahoo.com.

As we read this, hundreds of companies and individuals are working on new products.  Future Top Ten lists will boast a fresh generation of inventions to aid us in taking better care of our patients.

 

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

 

 

AWARENESS UNDER 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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

How common is awareness under general anesthesia? In 2007, Hollywood released the movie Awake, in which the protagonist, played by Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars) is awake during the general anesthetic for his heart surgery, and overhears the surgeon’s plan to murder him.  Producer Joana Vicente told Variety that Awake “will do to surgery what Jaws did to swimming in the ocean.” The movie trailer airs a statement that states, “Every year 21 million people are put under anesthesia. One out of 700 remain awake.”

 

            Awake was not much of a commercial success, with a total box office of only $32 million, but the film did publicize the issue of intraoperative awareness under general anesthesia, a topic worth reviewing.

If you undergo general anesthesia, do you have a 1 in 700 chance of being awake?  If you are a healthy patient undergoing routine surgery, the answer is no.  If you are sick and you are having a high-risk procedure, the answer is yes.

A key publication on this topic was the Sebel study. The Sebel study was a prospective, nonrandomized study, conducted on 20,000 patients at seven academic medical centers in the United States. Patients were scheduled for surgery under general anesthesia, and then interviewed in the postoperative recovery room and at least one week after anesthesia.

A total of 25 awareness cases were identified, a 0.13% incidence, which approximates the 1 in 700 incidence quoted in the Awake movie trailer. Awareness was associated with increased American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) physical status, i.e. sicker patients.  Assuming that approximately 20 million anesthetics are administered in the United States annually, the authors postulated that approximately 26,000 cases of intraoperative awareness occur each year.

Healthy patients are at minimal risk for intraoperative awareness. Patients at higher risk for intraoperative awareness include:

1. Patients with a history of substance abuse or chronic pain.

2. American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) Class 4 patients (patients with a severe systemic disease that is a constant threat to their life) and others with limited cardiovascular reserve.

3. Patients with previous history of intraoperative awareness.

4. The use of neuromuscular paralyzing drugs during the anesthetic.

5. Certain surgical procedures are higher risk for intraoperative awareness.  These procedures include cardiac surgery, Cesarean sections under general anesthesia, trauma or emergency cases.

The causes of intraoperative awareness include:

1. Intentionally light anesthesia administered to patients who are hypotensive or hypovolemic, or those with limited cardiovascuar reserve.

2. Intentionally light anesthesia administered to obstetric patients, in the attempt to avoid neonatal respiratory depression.

3. Efforts to expedite operating room turnover and minimize recovery room times.

4. Some patients have higher anesthetic requirements, due to chronic alcohol or drugs.

5. Equipment and provider errors:

Empty vaporizers with no potent anesthetic liquid inside

Syringe pump malfunction

Syringe swap, or mislabeling of a syringe

6. Difficult intubation, in which the anesthesia provider forgets to give supplementary IV doses of hypnotics.

7. Choice of anesthetic.  In multiple trials, the use of neuromuscular blockers is associated with awareness.

8. Some studies show a higher incidence of awareness with total intravenous anesthesia or nitrous-narcotic techniques.

What are the legal implications of intraoperative awareness?

The Domino study reported that cases of awareness represented 1.9% of malpractice claims against anesthesiologists. Deficiencies in labeling syringes and vigilance were common causes for awake paralysis. The patients’ vital signs were not classic clues:  hypertension was present in only 15% of recall cases, and tachycardia was present in only 7%.

What are the consequences of intraoperative awareness?

The following consequences have been reported from the Samuelsson study:

1. Recollections of auditory perceptions and a sensation of paralysis.  Anxiety, helplessness, and panic.  Pain is described less frequently.

2. Up to 70% of patients develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), i.e. late psychological symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, chronic fear, nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia, depression, or preoccupation with death.

What about BIS Monitoring?

Bispectral Index monitoring, or BIS monitoring, uses a computerized algorithm to convert a single channel of frontal EEG into an index score of hypnotic level, ranging from 100 (awake) to 0 (isoelectric EEG).

The BIS monitor was FDA-approved in 1996.  A BIS level of 40 – 60 reflects a low probability of consciousness during general anesthesia.  BIS measures the hypnotic components of anesthesia (e.g. effects of propofol and volatile agents), and is relatively insensitive to analgesic components (e.g. narcotics) of the anesthetic.  The BIS monitor is neither 100% sensitive nor 100% specific.

The B-Aware Trial was a randomized, double-blind, multi-center controlled trial using BIS in 2500 patients at high risk for awareness (cardiac surgery, C-sections, impaired cardiovascular status, trauma, chronic narcotic users, heavy alcohol users).   Explicit recall occurred in 0.16% (2 patients) when BIS used, vs. 0.89% (11 patients) when no BIS was used. This was a significant finding (p=0.022).

A significant paper published in the world’s leading anesthesia journal concluded that the predictive positive and negative values of BIS monitoring were low due to the infrequent occurrence of intraoperative awareness.  In addition, the cost of BIS monitoring all patients undergoing general anesthesia is high. Because there have been reported cases of awareness despite BIS monitoring, the authors concluded that the effectiveness of the monitor is less than 100%. The authors concluded that the contention that BIS Index monitoring reduces the risk of awareness is unproven, and the cost of using it for this indication is currently unknown.

In 2005, the American Society of Anesthesiologists published its Practice Advisory for Intraoperative Awareness.  The anesthesia practitioner is advised to do the following:

1. Review patient medical records for potential risk factors. (Substance use or abuse, previous history of intraoperative awareness, history of difficult intubation, chronic pain patients using high doses of opioids, ASA physical status IV or V, limited hemodynamic reserve).

2. Determine other potential risk factors. (Cardiac surgery, C-section, trauma surgery, emergency surgery, reduced anesthetic doses in the presence of paralysis, planned use of muscle relaxants during the maintenance phase of general anesthesia, planned use of nitrous oxide-opioid anesthesia).

3. Patients considered to be at increased risk of intraoperative awareness should be informed of the possibility when circumstances permit.

4. Preinduction checklist protocol for anesthesia machines and equipment to assure that the desired anesthetic drugs and doses will be delivered.  Verify IV access, infusion pumps, and their connections.

5. The decision to administer a benzodiazepine prophylactically should be made on a case-by-case basis for selected patients.

6. Intraoperative monitoring of depth of anesthesia, for the purpose of minimizing the occurrence of awareness, should rely on multiple modalities, including clinical techniques (e.g., ECG, blood pressure, HR, end-tidal anesthetic gas analyzer, and capnography)…. Brain function monitoring is not routinely indicated for patients undergoing general anesthesia, either to reduce the frequency of intraoperative awareness or to monitor depth of anesthesia…. The decision to use a brain function monitor should be made on a case-by-case basis by the individual practitioner of selected patients (e.g. light anesthesia).

Published suggestions for the prevention of awareness include:

1. Premedication with an amnestic agent.

2. Giving adequate doses of induction agents.

3. Avoiding muscle paralysis unless totally necessary.

4. Supplementing nitrous/narcotic anesthesia with 0.6% MAC of a volatile agent.

5. Administering 0.8 – 1.0 MAC when volatile agent is used alone.

6. Confirming delivery of anesthetic agents to the patient

In 2006, the California Society of Anesthesiologists released the following Statement on Intraoperative Awareness:

“ . . . Anesthesiologists are trained to minimize the occurrence of awareness under general anesthesia.  It is recognized that on rare occasions, usually associated with a patient’s critical condition, this may be unavoidable.  Furthermore, it is commonplace in contemporary anesthetic practice to employ a variety of techniques using regional nerve blocks and varying degrees of sedation.  Patients often do not make an distinction between these techniques and general anesthesia, yet awareness is often expected and anticipated with the former.  This may have led to a misunderstanding of ‘awareness’ during surgery by many patients.”

In 2011, the New England Journal of Medicine, arguably the most prestigious medical journal in the world, published a study looking at using the BIS monitor for the prevention of intraoperative awareness. Prevention of intraoperative awareness in a high-risk surgical population). The researchers tested the hypothesis that a protocol incorporating the electroencephalogram-derived bispectral index (BIS) was superior to a protocol incorporating standard monitoring of end-tidal anesthetic-agent concentration (ETAC) for the prevention of awareness. They randomly assigned 6041 patients at high risk for awareness to either BIS-guided anesthesia or ETAC-guided anesthesia. Results showed that a total of 7 of 2861 patients (0.24%) in the BIS group, as compared with 2 of 2852 (0.07%) in the ETAC group, had definite intraoperative awareness.  The superiority of the BIS protocol was not established.  Contrary to expectations, fewer patients in the ETAC group than in the BIS group experienced awareness.

To conclude, intraoperative awareness is a real but rare occurrence, with certain patient populations at higher risk. The BIS monitor is no panacea. Specific pharmacologic strategies can minimize the incidence of awareness. If you are a healthy patient undergoing a routine procedure, intraoperative awareness should be very rare.

The best defense against intraoperative awareness will always be the presence of a well-trained and vigilant physician anesthesiologist.

 

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

 

 

ON PEDIATRIC ANESTHESIA: THE METRONOME

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

The Russell Museum of Medical History and Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital presented an audio recording of The Metronome at Perspectives on Anesthesia, at Boston City Hall Plaza as part of HUBweek, Boston’s festival of innovation, in October 2017.

THE METRONOME, a poem by Richard Novak, M.D.     (as published in ANESTHESIOLOGY, Mind to Mind Section 2012: 117:417).

metronome medical

To Jacob’s mother I say,

“The risk of anything serious going wrong…”

She shakes her head, a metronome ticking without sound.

“with Jacob’s heart, lungs, or brain…”

Her lips pucker, proving me wrong.

“isn’t zero, but it’s very, very close to zero…”

Her eyes dart past me, to a future of ice cream and laughter.

“but I’ll be right there with him every second.”

The metronome stops, replaced by a single nod of assent.

She hands her only son to me.

An hour later, she stands alone,

Pacing like a Palace guard.

Her pupils wild.  Lower lip dancing.

The surgery is over.

Her eyebrows ascend in a hopeful plea.

I touch her hand.  Five icicles.

I say, “Everything went perfectly.  You can see Jacob now.”

The storm lifts.  She is ten years younger.

Her joy contagious as a smile.

The metronome beat true.

 

 

 

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

 

 

ANESTHESIOLOGISTS KNOW WHO THE BEST SURGEONS ARE

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

You’re a patient.  Is your surgeon a wonderful doctor, superb under pressure, or is he or she a self-absorbed nervous individual who can’t operate their way out of a paper bag? You don’t know.  Your anesthesiologist does. Anesthesiologists watch surgeons for a living.

 

Yes, we happen to give anesthetics to patients at the same time, but we anesthesiologists are always watching surgeons work.  If you want to know who the best surgeons are, ask an anesthesiologist, an operating room nurse, or an operating room scrub tech.  We see the surgeons on the front line, and we see their strengths and weaknesses.

Most surgeons spend the majority of their professional time in clinics, meeting patients in preoperative surgical consultations or in postoperative surgical follow up.  Most surgeons operate 1 – 2 days per week.  In contrast, most anesthesiologists have no clinic, and work 90-100% of their time in operating rooms.  In a typical week, an anesthesiologist may do 20-25 anesthetics with 10 – 15 different surgeons.  In a typical year, a busy anesthesiologist may work with 100 – 150 different surgeons.

In an operating room, the anesthesiologist stands 2 to 6 feet away from the surgeon, and has a clear view of the surgeon’s technique and an excellent opportunity to establish rapport with the surgical team.  Anesthesiologists and surgeons know each other very well.

As a patient, you may form your impressions of your surgeon based on encounters in the office or in your hospital room.  Favorable surgeons cast an air of confidence, intelligence, leadership and experience.  You may trust the look in their eye, the tenor of their voice, the firmness of their handshake.  You may like or dislike their necktie, their suit, their haircut or their bedside manner.

You have no idea how competent they are once they don sterile gown and gloves in the operating room, but anesthesiologists know.

The surgeon with the firm handshake may have hands that genuinely shake when they are in surgery.  The slick-appearing surgeon may operate in low gear, their fingers moving as slowly as a twig winding downstream in a muddy river.  In the operating room, the surgeon may be a benevolent professional or a moody tyrant who screams and swears at nurses and techs.  The surgeon with the killer smile may cling to outdated techniques or equipment.  Alternately, the surgeon may be world-class technician who knows his or her anatomy cold, handles tissue with exacting precision, and treats everyone on the surgical team like gold.

What can you, the patient, do about accessing information about your surgeon?

You can Google the surgeon’s name to seek information on their professional background, as well as any Yelp comments on other patient’s experiences with that doctor.  If you know anyone who works at that hospital or surgery center, it’s worth your while to query them and get their insider’s impression about the choice of surgeons that work there.  If you can talk to an anesthesiologist, operating room nurse, or operating scrub tech, they will be your best source of information as to which surgeon to consult.

Good luck.  All surgeons are different.  And remember: tonight when you are watching television, thousands of anesthesiologists are watching thousands of surgeons all over the United States.

 

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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BLINK: WHEN AN EXPERIENCED ANESTHESIOLOGIST MEETS THEIR PATIENT

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

I urge you to use Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink to become a better anesthesiologist. Clinical Case for Discussion:  As an anesthesia resident, how does your preoperative interview with a patient differ from that of an anesthesiologist with 20 years of experience?

Discussion:  In my second year of residency, I had the pleasure of working with Stanford anesthesia attending C. Philip Larson, M.D., a Past-Chairman of the Department and a Past Editor-In-Chief of our specialty’s leading publication, Anesthesiology.  My rotation was neuroanesthesia, and each evening prior to surgery Dr. Larson and I would make rounds on the wards to meet the surgical patients for the next day. (In the 1980’s almost all patients were hospitalized one night prior to surgery.)

I was surprised and taken aback by the experience, and I never forgot what those patient encounters were like.  Although Dr. Larson always let me do the anesthesia procedures in the operating room, he presented himself at the pre-op interview as the primary physician in charge of the anesthesia care.  When Dr. Larson entered a patient’s room, he sat down on the bed and played a role that was part Santa Claus and part all-knowing, all-loving deity.

Dr. Larson greeted the patient kindly, introduced both of us, and then launched into a comfortable dialogue about any variety of topics, none of them remotely related to the surgery or the anesthesia.  I kept waiting to hear him say, “can you walk up two flights of stairs?” or “do you ever have chest pain?”

These questions were never asked or answered at the bedside.  They’d already been asked and answered and were present in the patient’s chart.  Dr. Larson valued the preoperative interview as a time to connect with his patient, and to establish rapport and comfort between them.  After perhaps ten minutes of such banter, he would switch gears and state that we would be doing the anesthesia care the next day, that we would keep him or her asleep and safe, and give a modicum of detail about what to expect.  He did not perform any detailed physical exam.

Despite the fact that Dr. Larson was a renowned expert witness in the specialty of anesthesia, he did not recite a litany of informed consent risks.  A particular pet peeve of his was the suggestion that an informed consent discussion should include telling a patient of the risk of death.  His opinion on this issue always was, “If you tell the patient that they can die, and then you do something negligent and they do die, your informed consent protects you not one bit from the fact that you practiced below the standard of care.”

In his best-selling book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell writes that the risk of a doctor ever being sued has very little to do with how many errors they make.  He explains that there’s an overwhelming number of patients who’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care yet never have filed a malpractice claim.  What was the common denominator of the people who do choose to sue?  According to Gladwell, they feel they were treated badly by their doctor.  That even when injured by clear negligence, most people won’t sue a doctor they like.

Dr. Bruce Halperin, a member of the Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group in Palo Alto and a member of the Stanford clinical faculty, was renowned for his bedside manner.  In the preoperative area, I often heard Dr. Halperin telling joke after joke, and the intermittent bursts of laughter from his patients sometimes made it difficult for me to even hear the conversation with my own patient.  One of our busiest cosmetic surgeons often had Dr. Halperin telephone patients early in the consultative process to discuss anesthesia issues.  A patient later told this surgeon, “I’m not sure if I want to have the plastic surgery, but I sure do want to have the anesthesia!”

As an anesthesiologist, you have 10-15 minutes to complete your medical interview with your patient, and to get them to respect you, to have confidence in you, and yes . . . to like you.

As a resident-in-training, your preoperative interviews may be thick with questions about active medical problems, particularly cardiac, pulmonary, and neurologic questions.  You may perform a rigorous and detailed exam of the airway, lungs, and heart.  And you likely spend ample time explaining the anesthetic technique, alternatives, and risks.

You are trained to do all these things.  Twenty years from now, your interview may not be as conversational and sparse on medical questions as Dr. Larson’s was, but your technique will evolve.

Most pertinent questions have already been asked and answered in the patient’s medical records.  Tailor your interview as appropriate for the patient’s medical co-morbidities and the invasiveness of the surgery.  For a 68-year-old with diabetes and hypertension who is about to have a cholecystectomy, it will be relevant to ask them whether they can walk up two flights of stairs and whether they ever have chest pain.  For a 24-year-old with a negative history who is about to have a knee arthroscopy, a simple “Are you in excellent health?” may suffice.

What about the physical exam?  For experienced anesthesiologists, the assessment of whether the airway may be difficult can usually accomplished in seconds, with examination of the mouth opening and the neck extension.  You will listen to the lungs and the heart, but in the absence of symptoms, it is rare to uncover any information with your stethoscope that changes your anesthetic.

Patients are nervous before surgery.  They welcome both your expertise in medicine and your skills in making them relax.  Experienced anesthesiologists can explain the anesthetic plan and risks in a fashion that will gain the patient’s trust and confidence.

The only procedure most of us do while the patient is awake and unsedated is the insertion of an I.V. catheter.  This is a time when you have the luxury of talking about any topic that is calming to the patient.  Conversations about the patient’s hobbies, work, hometown, or family are all pleasant diversions to enter the realm of Dr. C. Philip Larson, and connect with the patient without talking any further about anesthesia.

In my previous career, I was an internal medicine doctor.  In medicine clinic there are dozens of questions to be asked and answered:  “Where is the pain?  How long has it been there?  What makes it better?  What makes it worse?  Does it move anywhere? . . .”  With a waiting room full of patients, there was little time to ask each patient where they had dinner last night or where their child was going to college.

In contrast, anesthesia practice can provide a wonderful opportunity to relax your patient with well-spun conversation.  My advice to you is to be as much like C. Philip Larson, M.D. as your practice allows.  Try not to be a walking, talking EPIC-checklist when it’s time to connect with your patients.

 

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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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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

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.

 

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

 

 

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

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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ANAPHYLACTIC REACTION UNDER 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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

Clinical Case For Discussion:    Anaphylaxis during anesthesia can be a difficult diagnosis. A 59-year-old male is undergoing a sigmoid colectomy.  Twenty minutes after surgery begins, the peak inspiratory pressure on the ventilator  rises to 50 cm H2O, and the systolic blood pressure reading on your vital signs monitor drops to 70.  What do you do?

 

Discussion:     You begin by rechecking the ABC’s of Airway, Breathing, and Circulation.   You suction the  endotracheal tube to be sure it is patent.  It is.  You squeeze the bag and listen to the lungs to make sure both lungs are ventilated.  They are, but there are diffuse wheezes.  You recheck the blood pressure device in the stat mode.  The repeat blood pressure is unchanged.  You feel for peripheral pulses, and they are not palpable.  Heart tones are present, but the rate is 140 beats per minute.  The oxygen saturation is 70%.  There are no acute ST changes on the ECG.  The exposed skin is normal.

You need a diagnosis to make the appropriate therapy.  This is the acute onset of a multi-system disorder, with bronchospasm and hypotension, in a previously healthy patient.  There are not many conditions that cause both acutely, and I want you to think of anaphylaxis early on.  A differential diagnosis includes:

(1)  an acute myocardial infarction, with left heart failure and pulmonary edema,

(2) acute septic shock, or

(3)  airway occlusion or acute asthma with decreased ventilation and cardiac dysfunction.

The absence of ST changes, arrhythmias, rales, or gallop make the first unlikely,  the second is very uncommon, and respiratory dysfunction is not likely to cause hypotension.

At the beginning of any surgery, multiple drugs including anesthetics, muscle relaxants, narcotics, and antibiotics are given in a short time period.  The identity of which drug is causing the allergic reaction is often impossible to determine.   Anaphylaxis secondary to latex exposure from  surgeon’s gloves has also been reported.

Regardless of the cause of the anaphylaxis, the treatment will be the same.

Anesthetic drugs are stopped, 100% oxygen is administered, and a bolus of intravenous fluid is given.   Treatment must include intravenous epinephrine.  Other causes of hypotension can be treated with  dopamine or phenylephrine, but anaphylaxis will not respond to these drugs.   Bronchospasm can be treated with  inhaled bronchodilators such as albuterol, but this  will have little effect in anaphylaxis.

Prompt epinephrine therapy is crucial.  The dose of epinephrine is important.  The 1 mg.  ampule of epinephrine needs to be diluted.  Treatment  is begun in 10 to 100 microgram increments,  and increased as needed.    The response should be immediate, with increase in systemic vascular resistance, blood pressure, and improvement in bronchospasm and oxygen saturation.  An epinephrine infusion may be needed to maintain vital signs.  An arterial line and central venous catheter are inserted.  Adjunct drugs such as steroids, diphenhydramine, and an H-2 blocker are given intraveously.

The surgery is quickly ended.  The patient is transferred to the ICU, with the trachea still intubated.

An excellent textbook reference on the treatment of anaphylaxis is the Stanford Cognitive Aid Emergency Manual, available for free download on the Internet.

In 27 years of anesthesia, I have had 4 cases of anaphylaxis.  In these 4 episodes the offending drugs were  (1) protamine,  (2) intravenous contrast dye, (3) vecuronium, and (4) atracurium.

If you were to ask graduating anesthesia residents what is likely to be the case of their career, most would probably say some big heart/thoracic/neuro/zebra type of case.  This case shows that it may be some typical case, where something bad happened when they were least expecting it.

 

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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MANAGEMENT OF STROKE IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING CAROTID ARTERY 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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

Clinical Case for Discussion:  A 74-year-old man is scheduled for a left carotid endarterectomy.  At the conclusion of the anesthetic, his blood pressure rises to a Mean Arterial Pressure (MAP) of 110, and he is unable to move the right side of his body.  What do you do?

 

Discussion:   In 19 years of doing vascular anesthesia, I  had this happen to my patient two times.   The first time it occurred, I wasn’t sure what to do, if anything, about the new neurologic deficits.

Let us assume that you already carried out the textbook approach to  anesthesia for carotid thromboendarterectomy (TEA) for this patient.   All appropriate diagnostic and therapeutic measures were done to prepare the patient for surgery.   His preoperative MAP was 100.  During the general anesthetic the MAP was maintained between  90 and 110.   The surgeon used a carotid shunt, and during clamping and shunting no hypotension occurred.  (These were the circumstances  in both the post operative strokes in my patients.)   At the conclusion of surgery, you discontinued the anesthetics, and the  blood pressure increased as the anesthetic depth lightened.  The MAP increased to 110.  You extubated the patient awake.  Then you noticed that the right leg and arm were not moving.  The surgeon returned to the bedside, and said, “I need him back asleep, as fast as possible!”

What do you do at this point?   You give additional doses of anesthetic and relaxant, and reintubate the trachea.  You may be feeling guilty, wondering if this paralysis is an anesthetic complication.    What the surgeon is thinking is, “do I have a diagnosis that I can treat, such as a dissection, a flap, or a clotted  carotid artery?”  The surgeon may ask you to give a repeat dose of heparin to the patient.  After a quick prep and drape, he  reopens the  skin incision.   The surgeon assesses the pulse in the carotid, and may do a Doppler ultrasound exam.  Next is an on-the-table angiogram, which shows that both the common and internal carotid arteries are 100% occluded.

The surgeon closes the wound.  You discuss the plan with the surgeon.  The plan is to  keep the trachea intubated to protect the airway.  You discontinue the general anesthesia, and substitute a propofol infusion for  transport to the ICU.

Per Miller’s Anesthesia, 5th edition, 2000, p 1878, “for carotid endarterectomy, most centers report a perioperative stroke rate of between 3 and 5 per cent.  The incidence of perioperative stroke is highest for patients with stroke, lower for patients with transient ischemic attack, and lowest in asymptomatic patients.  Neurologic deficits occur most commonly in patients with poorly controlled preoperative hypertension or in those with hypertension or hypotension postoperatively.  More than half of these deficits occur more than 4 hours postoperatively.”

If you do hundreds of carotid TEA’s during your career,  a non-zero number of patients will have postoperative strokes.  As the anesthesiologist, you have control of the patient’s blood pressure and heart rate.   Extremes of blood pressure that are outside the range of autoregulation of cerebral perfusion can contribute to cerebral ischemia.   But most strokes will be surgical complications.   Per Sabiston,  (Textbook of Surgery, 2001, p 1348), “neurologic deficits within  the first 12 hours of operation are almost always the result of thromboembolic phenomena stemming from the endarterectomy site or damaged internal, common, or external carotid arteries.”

I learned from my experiences not to extubate the carotid TEA patient until he proves he is awake and can move the contralateral extremities.  If there is a stroke, you need only to give more drugs to resume anesthesia, instead of the risks of repeat laryngoscopy and intubation as in the case above.

 

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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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

Latest posts by the anesthesia consultant (see all)

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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