ANESTHESIA FACTS FOR NON-MEDICAL PEOPLE: WHY DO I HAVE TO STOP EATING AND DRINKING AT MIDNIGHT BEFORE 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

“Why do I have to stop eating and drinking prior to surgery?” This is a common question I hear from my patients—they’re puzzled by the connection between going to sleep and stopping eating prior to surgery.

 

It’s vital that your stomach is empty prior to elective surgery and anesthesia. Once you’re anesthetized, your cough reflex and gag reflex are abolished. These reflexes prevent food or liquids from entering your windpipe or your lungs, and are life-protecting reflexes in awake, healthy humans.

Under anesthesia these reflexes are absent. If you vomit or regurgitate stomach contents into your mouth, the material can descend into your windpipe or lungs. The complication of stomach contents entering your lungs is a dire event. The medical term for this occurrence is aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration refers to inhaling, and pneumonia refers to an inflammation of the lung tissue. In severe aspiration pneumonia, the lungs fail to exchange oxygen from the airways into the bloodstream, and brain and heart oxygen levels can drop to life-threatening lows.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists guidelines for fasting prior to elective surgery requiring general anesthesia, regional anesthesia, or conscious sedation/analgesia are as follows:

Fried or fatty foods                                                8 hours

A light meal (toast and clear liquids)                     6 hours

Non-human milk                                                    6 hours

Breast milk                                                             4 hours

Infant formula                                                         4 hours

Clear liquids                                                            2 hours

Clear liquids may be consumed up to 2 hours prior to anesthesia. Clear liquids include water, fruit juices without pulp, soda beverages, Gatorade, black coffee or clear tea. Milk and thick juices with pulp are not clear liquids.

These fasting guidelines do not apply to surgical procedures under local anesthesia, or to those with no anesthesia. You don’t have to fast for a dentist office visit, for example. The guidelines do apply for colonoscopies or upper gastrointestinal endoscopy procedures. The intravenous sedation drugs used for endoscopy procedures may sedate you to a deep enough level such that your gag and cough reflexes are absent.

In certain conditions, the stomach will be considered to be full even if the patient has not eaten or consumed fluids for eight hours. Acute pain syndromes such as appendicitis, a gall bladder attack, a broken bone, or a febrile illness are known to diminish the stomach’s emptying, and anesthesiologists treat these patients as if they had a full stomach whether they’ve fasted or not. Pregnant women and morbidly obese patients are also treated as having full stomachs for any surgery, because of delayed stomach emptying due to increased intra-abdominal pressure.

If a patient presents for emergency surgery, the anesthesiologist must proceed without waiting for the recommended fasting times. On induction of general anesthesia, the physician anesthesiologist will have a second individual (a nurse or a physician) apply downward pressure on the cricoid cartilage of the patient’s neck immediately upon loss of consciousness. The science of this is as follows: the circumferential ring of the cricoid cartilage encircles the windpipe.

Pushing downward on this ring compresses the esophagus below, to prevent passive regurgitation or vomiting of stomach contents. This pressing-down maneuver is called “giving cricoid pressure” or “the Sellick Maneuver,” named after Dr. Brian Arthur Sellick, the anesthesiologist who first described the maneuver in 1961. Inducing anesthesia using the Sellick maneuver is referred to as a Rapid Sequence Induction (RSI) of general anesthesia. In a RSI the anesthesiologist administers into the patient’s intravenous line: 1) a hypnotic drug such as propofol, followed by 2) a rapid paralyzing drug such as succinylcholine. The endotracheal breathing tube can then be placed in the windpipe within about 30 seconds after the loss of consciousness. The Sellick maneuver is held throughout those 30 seconds until medical confirmation that the tube is in the windpipe.

If stomach contents enter the upper airway at any time during an induction of anesthesia, the anesthesiologist will see vomitus in the patient’s mouth or inside the clear plastic facemask. The anesthesiologist may also detect evidence of inadequate oxygen exchange—i.e. the patient’s pulse oximeter readings will decline to less than the safe level of 90%. The anesthesiologist will then suction the upper airway and place a breathing tube into the windpipe as soon as possible. This tube is called an endotracheal tube, and it has a balloon near its tip. When inflated, the balloon protects stomach contents from descending into the lungs.

The anesthesiologist will then suction out the lungs through the inside the breathing tube. Suction catheters of varying length and diameters exist for this purpose. The surgery will likely be cancelled if it has not yet started. If the aspiration of stomach contents occurs in the middle of surgery, it’s likely the surgery will be aborted or shortened.

As I have written in multiple posts on this website, all critical care medicine resuscitation follows the A-B-C mantra of Airway—Breathing—Circulation. The regurgitation of stomach contents interferes with both A and B by blocking the airway and interfering with breathing.

The medical term for fasting prior to surgery is NPO, which stands for “nil per os,” a Latin phrase for nothing per mouth. If you hear your doctor or nurse say, “Is she NPO?” they’re asking the important question of whether you have fasted as required. Being NPO may seem inconvenient and unnecessary, but it’s critical to assure your health and well being during anesthesia.

Reference: Practice Guidelines for Preoperative Fasting and the Use of Pharmacologic Agents to Reduce the Risk of Pulmonary Aspiration: Application to Healthy Patients Undergoing Elective Procedures An Updated Report by the American Society of Anesthesiologists Committee on Standards and Practice Parameters, 2011; Anesthesiology, Vol 14(3), 495-511.

 

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

 

 

OPERATING ROOM BULLYING

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

Does operating room bullying occur? You’re a freshly trained, recently hired anesthesiologist at a new medical center. In your first week on your job, an attending surgeon in the operating room intimidates you, making aggressive, sarcastic, and critical comments such as, “Are you trying to kill my patient? Have you ever done this before? Why is it taking you so long to get this patient to sleep?” or “My patient just moved. Can’t you give anesthesia better than that? Maybe I’d better ask for a different anesthesiologist.”

Does this ever happen? Unfortunately it does. What do you do?

Bullying in the medical profession is common, particularly during training years. A 1990 study (Silver HK, Medical student abuse. Incidence, severity, and significance, JAMA 1990 Jan 26;263(4):527-32) found that 46.4 percent of students at one major medical school had been abused at some point. By the time they were seniors, that number rose to 80.6 percent. In an Irish study, 30% of junior hospital physician responders to a questionnaire claimed to have been subjected to one or more bullying behaviors. (Cheema S, Bullying of junior doctors prevails in Irish health system: a bitter reality, Ir Med J. 2005 Oct;98(9):274-5).

The traditional medical education hierarchy of attendings > fellows > residents > interns > medical students sets up a pecking order where senior physicians pick on junior colleagues. One might paraphrase the phenomenon as “Sh__ runs downhill.” Younger colleagues are expected to do more “scut,” that is more paper work, computer work, contacting of consultants, chasing down lab and scan results, early rounds and late rounds on patients, as well as to sleep overnight in hospitals.

As physicians become more senior and exit training programs, their lifestyle improves and junior doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, or registered nurses do more of their work. The tradition of condescending behavior toward those less trained may continue. When condescension crosses the line into disruptive or inappropriate behavior, it becomes a problem. Abused physicians, nurses, or techs can become angry or depressed, lose self esteem, and their physical and emotional health may suffer. Disrespect and bullying compromise patient safety because they inhibit the collegiality and cooperation essential to teamwork, cut off communication, and destroy team morale.

Joint Commission studies have shown that communication failure between health care workers is the number one cause for medication errors, delays in treatment, and surgeries at the wrong site. A 2004 study of workplace intimidation by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) (www.ismp.org/pressroom/pr20040331.pdf) found that nearly 40 percent of clinicians have kept quiet or ignored concerns about improper medication rather than talk to an intimidating colleague.Rather than bring their questions about medication orders to a difficult doctor, these health care personnel said they would preferred to keep silent. Seven percent of the respondents said that in the past year they’d been involved in a medication error in which intimidation was at least partly responsible.

In 2009 the Joint Commission began requiring hospitals to have a “code of conduct that defines acceptable, disruptive, and inappropriate staff behaviors” and for its “leaders [to] create and implement a process for managing disruptive and inappropriate staff behaviors.” The rationale for the standard states: “Leaders must address disruptive behavior of individuals working at all levels of the [organization], including management, clinical and administrative staff, licensed independent practitioners, and governing body members.”

Stanford University Hospital where I work has adopted such a Medical Staff Code of Professional Behavior (found online at medicalstaff.stanfordhospital.org/bylaws/documents/Code_of_Behavior).

Excerpts from this document include:

“Inappropriate behavior” means conduct that is unwarranted and is reasonably interpreted to be demeaning or offensive. Persistent, repeated inappropriate behavior can become a form of harassment and thereby become disruptive, and subject to treatment as “disruptive behavior.” Inappropriate behavior include, but are not limited to, the following: Belittling or berating statements; Name calling; Use of profanity or disrespectful language; Inappropriate comments written in the medical record; Blatant failure to respond to patient care needs or staff requests; Personal sarcasm or cynicism; Lack of cooperation without good cause; Refusal to return phone calls, pages, or other messages concerning patient care; Condescending language; and degrading or demeaning comments regarding patients and their families, nurses, physicians, hospital personnel and/or the hospital.

“Disruptive behavior” means any abusive conduct including sexual or other forms of harassment, or other forms of verbal or non-verbal conduct that harms or intimidates others to the extent that quality of care or patient safety could be compromised.

Disruptive behavior by Medical Staff members is prohibited. Examples of disruptive behavior include, but are not limited to, the following: Physically threatening language directed at anyone in the hospital including physicians, nurses, other Medical Staff members, or any hospital employee, administrator or member of the Board of Directors; Physical contact with another individual that is threatening or intimidating; Throwing instruments, charts or other things.

This is how the Stanford policy deals with inappropriate or disruptive behavior:

          If this is the first incident of inappropriate behavior, the Chief of Staff (COS)or designee shall discuss the matter with the offending Medical Staff member, emphasizing that the behavior is inappropriate and must cease. The offending Medical Staff member may be asked to apologize to the complainant. The approach during this initial intervention should be collegial and helpful.

            Further isolated incidents that do not constitute persistent, repeated inappropriate behavior will be handled by providing the offending Medical Staff member with notification of each incident, and a reminder of the expectation the individual comply with this Code of Behavior.

          If the COS or designee determines the Medical Staff member has demonstrated persistent, repeated inappropriate behavior, constituting harassment (a form of disruptive behavior), or has engaged in disruptive behavior on the first offense, the case will be referred to the COS and/or the Committee on Professionalism (COP). The subject will be notified of this decision and given an opportunity to provide a written response both prior to and subsequent to meeting with the COS or COP.

            If it is determined that the subject has engaged in disruptive behavior, a letter of admonition will be sent to the offending member, and, as appropriate, a rehabilitation action plan developed by the COS and/or COP, with the advice and counsel of the medical executive committee as indicated. The assistance of the Wellbeing Committee may be offered at any stage of this process.

             If, in spite of this admonition and intervention, disruptive behavior recurs, the COS or designee shall meet with and advise the offending Medical Staff member such behavior must immediately cease or corrective action will be initiated. This “final warning” shall be sent to the offending Medical Staff member in writing.

            If after the “final warning” the disruptive behavior recurs, corrective action (including possible suspension or termination of privileges) shall be initiated pursuant to the Medical Staff bylaws of which this Code of Behavior is a part, and the Medical Staff member shall have all of the due process rights set forth in the Medical Staff bylaws.

What do you do when inappropriate or disruptive behavior occurs in your operating room? The specialty of anesthesia provides wonderful positives such as intellectual challenge, multiple different subspecialties, hands-on procedures, and solid financial reimbursement. A disadvantage of the specialty of anesthesia is that anesthesiologists are consultants who do not have their own patients. No patient goes to the hospital or surgery center solely to have an anesthetic. Patients are there for some invasive procedure that requires an anesthetic.

Because the patient “belongs” to the surgeon, some surgeons use this fact to lord power over the anesthesiology provider, the operating room nurses, and surgical technicians, as well as over the hospital administration. A busy surgeon with a hefty workload brings a great deal of revenue to the hospital or surgery center he or she chooses to operate at. Some surgeons feel entitled to exercise condescending behavior toward nurses and anesthesiologists who they perceive to be merely part of hospital or surgery center services. Some surgeons yell, cuss, and throw things. Some engage in more subversive behaviors such as ignoring questions, acting impatient, insulting colleagues or speaking to them in condescending tones. Only a small percent of surgeons are bad actors, but a small proportion can have a big impact.

In my 25-year anesthesia career I’ve seen multiple examples of verbally and emotionally abusive surgeons. In distant years most of these surgeons met little resistance to their behavior. Staff who opposed them were moved to different operating rooms, and more enabling nurses and techs were found. The enablers were quiet, agreeable, hard working, and rarely questioned the surgeon’s authority. Anesthesiologists who resisted surgeon bullying stopped working with that surgeon, per both the surgeon and the anesthesiologist’s wishes. Alternate anesthesia providers were tried until a subgroup of passive enabler anesthetists was found.

My advice to any anesthesiologist out there is: Don’t be an enabler. You are a highly trained physician, deserving of respect. If a surgeon has an episode of acting disrespectfully to you or to any of the other operating room staff, conclude your care of that current patient without a confrontation. After the case is finished, choose a time to hold a face-to-face conversation with the surgeon. The setting could be a hallway, in the locker room, or at some other location where no patient care is being done. Tell him or her that you find their behavior toward you unacceptable, and that they need to stop it. If you get pushback, and you probably will, you have several choices: 1) have a loud verbal argument, asserting your will against theirs, 2) grin, bear it, and stop complaining about the circumstance; 3) request your scheduler to never schedule you with this surgeon again; or 4) kick it upstairs to the chief of the department and/or the chief of the surgery department.

Which option should you choose?

1) gets you a boisterous unprofessional argument with an individual who will be resistant to change. 2) results in a long-term unacceptable solution for you and your professional esteem. 3) gets you off the hook but does nothing to change the situation for others in the operating room. Only 4) will set the wheels in motion toward significant change. Stay calm and confident and refer the incident up to senior physician administrators to evoke change. If the department chairs can not impact behavioral change, take the issue higher to the Chief of Staff.

A genuine problem occurs when a bullying surgeon leaves all major medical centers and starts his or her own surgery center where he or she is the Medical Director and his or her bad behavior goes unscrutinized. If you are working in such a setting, I’d advise you to find another place to give anesthetics. Without an unbiased administrator, the surgeon bullying behaviors will never go away.

You’ll be happier working in an operating room cured of disruptive behavior, and the real winners will be the patients, who will come and go through a hospital free of disruptive behavior and bullying.

 

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

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:

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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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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

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.

 

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

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

DSC04882_edited