ROBOT ANESTHESA II

 

THE iCONTROL-RP ANESTHESIA ROBOT

On May 15, 2015, the Washington Post published a story titled, “We Are Convinced the Machine Can Do Better Than Human Anesthesiologists.”

Is this true? Are anesthesiologists on the verge of being replaced by a new robot?

In a word, “No.”

The new device being discussed is the iControl-RP anesthesia robot.

In recent years there have been significant advances in the automated delivery of the intravenous anesthetic drugs propofol and remifentanil. (Orliaguet GA, Feasibility of closed-loop titration of propofol and remifentanil guided by the bispectral monitor in pediatric and adolescent patients: a prospective randomized study, 2015 Apr;122(4):759-67). Propofol is an ultra-short-acting hypnotic drug that causes sleep. Remifentanil is an ultra-short-acting narcotic that relieves pain. Administered together, these drugs induce what is referred to as Total Intravenous Anesthesia, or TIVA. Total Intravenous Anesthesia is a technique anesthesiologists use when they choose to avoid using inhaled gases such as sevoflurane and nitrous oxide. Anesthesiologists administer TIVA by adjusting the flow rates on two separate infusion pumps, one infusion pump containing each drug.

A closed-loop system is a machine that infuses these drugs automatically. These systems include several essential items: The first is a processed electroencephalogram (EEG) such as a bi-spectral monitor (BIS monitor) attached to the patient’s forehead which records a neurologic measure of how asleep the patient is. The BIS monitor calculates a score between 0 and 100 for the patient’s level of unconsciousness, with a score of 100 corresponding to wide awake and 0 corresponding to a flat EEG. A score of 40 – 60 is considered an optimal amount of anesthesia depth. The second and third essential items of a closed-loop automated system are two automated infusion pumps containing propofol and remifentanil. A computer controls the infusion rate of a higher or lower amount of these drugs, depending on whether the measured BIS score is higher or lower than the 40- 60 range.

Researchers in Canada have expanded this technology into a device they call the iControl-RP, which is in clinical trials at the University of British Columbia. The iControl-RP is a closed-loop system which makes its own decisions. The initials RP stand for the two drugs being titrated: remifentanil and propofol. In addition to monitoring the patient’s EEG level of consciousness (via a BIS monitor device called NeuroSENSE), this new device monitors traditional vital signs such as blood oxygen levels, heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, to determine how much anesthesia to deliver.

Per published information on their research protocol, the iControl-RP allows either remifentanil or propofol to be operated in any of three modes: (1) closed-loop control based on feedback from the EEG as measured by the NeuroSENSE; (2) target-controlled infusion (TCI), based on previously-described pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic models; and (3) conventional manual infusion, which requires a weight-based dose setting. (Reference: Closed-loop Control of Anesthesia: Controlled Delivery of Remifentanil and Propofol Dates, Status, Enrollment Verified by: Fraser Health, August 2014, First Received: January 15, 2013, Last Updated: March 5, 2015, Phase: N/A, Start Date: February 2013, Overall Status: Recruiting, Estimated Enrollment: 150).

In Phase 1 of the iControl-RP testing involving 50 study subjects, propofol will be administered in closed-loop mode and a remifentanil infusion will be administered based on a target-controlled infusion. In phase 2 involving 100 study subjects, both propofol and remifentanil will be administered in closed-loop mode. The investigators aim to demonstrate that closed-loop control of anesthesia and analgesia based on EEG feedback is clinically feasible.

In both phases, an anesthesiologist will monitor the patient as per routine practice and have the ability to modify the anesthetic or analgesic drugs being administered. That is, he or she will be able to adjust the target depth of hypnosis, adjust the target effect site concentration for remifentanil, immediately switch to manual control of either infusion, administer a bolus dose, or immediately stop the infusion of either drug. iControl-RP is connected to the NeuroSENSE EEG monitor, the two infusion pumps for separately controlled propofol and remifentanil administration, and the operating room patient vital signs monitor. A user interface allows the anesthesiologist to set the target EEG depth level, switch between modes of operation (manual, target-controlled infusion, or closed-loop), and set manual infusion rates or target effect-site concentrations for either drug as required.

Per the article in the Washington Post. (Todd C. Frankel, Washington Post, May 15, 2015), one of the machine’s co-developers Mark Ansermino, MD said, “We are convinced the machine can do better than human anesthesiologists.” The iControl-RP has been used to induce deep sedation in adults and children undergoing general surgery. The device had been used on 250 patients so far.

Why is this robotic device only a small step toward replacing anesthesiologists?

A critical realization is that anesthetizing patients requires far more skill than merely titrating two drug levels. Every patient requires (1) preoperative assessment of all medical problems from the history, physical exam, and laboratory evaluation of each individual patient, so that the anesthesiologist can plan and prescribe the appropriate anesthesia type; (2) placement of an intravenous line through which the TIVA drugs may be administered; (3) mask ventilation of an unconscious patient (in most cases), followed by placement of an airway tube to control the delivery of oxygen and ventilation in and out of the patient’s lungs; (4) observation of all vital monitors during surgery, with the aim of directing the diagnosis and treatment of any complication that occurs as a result of anesthesia or the surgical procedure; (5) removal of the airway tube at the conclusion of most surgeries, and (6) the diagnosis and treatment of any complication in the newly awake patient following the anesthetic.

In the future, closed-loop titration of drugs may lessen an anesthesiologist’s workload and free him or her for other activities. In the distant future, closed-loop titration of drugs may free a solitary anesthesiologist to initiate and monitor multiple anesthetics simultaneously from a control booth via multiple video screens and interface displays. But the handling of all tasks (1) – (6) by an automated robotic device is still the stuff of science fiction. The Washington Post article said an early role for the machine could be in war zones or remote areas where an anesthesiologist is unavailable. One could conjecture that a closed-loop anesthesia system may be used to facilitate surgery in outer space some day as well.

In either case, an anesthesiologist or some other highly-trained medical professional will still be required on site to achieve tasks (1) – (6).

The iControl-RP has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The iControl-RP team has struggled to find a corporate backer for its project. Dr. Ansermino, the anesthesiologist inventor in Vancouver, told the Washington Post, “Most big companies view this as too risky,” but he believed a device like this was inevitable. “I think eventually this will happen,” Ansermino told the Washington Post, “whether we like it or not.”

That may be, but I suspect companies are risk averse regarding the iControl-RP because investment is guided by analysts and physicians who must consider the practical applications and risks of any new medical device. The issues of leaving (1) – (6) up to a robotic device are impractical at best, and dangerous to the patient at worse.

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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

 

 

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WILL YOU HAVE A BREATHING TUBE DOWN YOUR THROAT DURING YOUR SURGERY?

One of the most common questions I hear from patients immediately prior to their surgical anesthetic is, “Will I have a breathing tube down my throat during anesthesia?”

The answer is: It depends.

Let’s answer this question for some common surgeries:

KNEE ARTHROSCOPY: Common knee arthroscopy procedures are meniscectomies and anterior cruciate ligament reconstructions. Anesthetic options include general anesthesia, regional anesthesia, or local anesthesia. Most knee arthroscopies are performed under a general anesthetic, in which the anesthesiologist injects propofol into your intravenous line to make you fall asleep. After you’re asleep, the most common airway tube used for knee arthroscopy is a laryngeal mask airway (LMA). The LMA in inserted into your mouth, behind your tongue and past your uvula, to a depth just superior to your voice box. The majority of patients will breath on their own during surgery. The LMA keeps you from snoring or having significant obstruction of your airway passages. In select patients, including very obese patients, an endotracheal tube (ETT) will be inserted instead of an LMA. The ETT requires the anesthesiologist to look directly into your voice box and insert the tube through and past your vocal cords. With either the LMA or the ETT, you’ll be asleep and will have no awareness of the airway tube except for a sore throat after surgery. A lesser number of knee arthroscopies are performed under a regional anesthetic which does not require a breathing tube. The regional anesthetic options include a blockade of the femoral nerve located in your groin or numbing the entire lower half of your body with a spinal or epidural anesthetic injected into your low back. A small number of knee arthroscopies are done with local anesthesia injected into your knee joint, in combination with intravenous sedative medications into your IV. Why are most knee arthroscopies performed with general anesthesia, which typically requires an airway tube? Because in an anesthesiologist’s hands, an airway tube is a common intervention with an acceptable risk profile. A light general anesthetic is a simpler anesthetic than a femoral nerve block, a spinal, or an epidural anesthetic.

Laryngeal Mask AIrway (LMA) Tube

 

Endotracheal Tube (ETT)

NOSE AND THROAT SURGERIES SUCH AS TONSILLECTOMY AND RHINOPLASTY: Almost all nose and throat surgeries require an airway tube, so anesthetic gases and oxygen can be ventilated in and out through your windpipe safely during the time the surgeon is working on these breathing passages.

ABDOMINAL SURGERIES, INCLUDING LAPAROSCOPY: Almost all intra-abdominal surgeries require an airway tube to guarantee adequate ventilation of anesthetic gases and oxygen in and out of your lungs while the surgeon works inside your abdomen.

CHEST SURGERIES AND OPEN HEART SURGERIES: Almost all intra-thoracic surgeries require an airway tube to guarantee adequate ventilation of anesthetic gases and oxygen in and out of your lungs while the surgeon works inside your chest.

TOTAL KNEE REPLACEMENT AND TOTAL HIP REPLACEMENT: The majority of total knee and hip replacement surgeries are performed using spinal, epidural and/or nerve block anesthesia anesthesia to block pain to the lower half of the body. The anesthesiologist often chooses to supplement the regional anesthesia with intravenous sedation, or supplement with a general anesthetic which requires an airway tube. Why add sedation or general anesthesia to the regional block anesthesia? It’s simple: most patients have zero interest in being awake while they listen to the surgeon saw through their knee joint or hammer their new total hip into place.

CATARACT SURGERY: Cataract surgery is usually performed using numbing local anesthetic eye drop medications. Patients are wake or mildly sedated, and no airway tube is used.

COLONOSCOPY OR STOMACH ENDOSCOPY: These procedures are performed under intravenous sedation and almost never require an airway tube.

HAND OR FOOT SURGERIES: The anesthesiologist will choose the simplest anesthetic that suffices. Sometimes the choice is local anesthesia, with or without intravenous sedation. Sometimes the choice will be a regional nerve block to numb the extremity, with or without intravenous sedation. Many times the choice will be a general anesthetic, often with an airway tube. An LMA is used more frequently than an ETT.

CESAREAN SECTION: The preferred anesthetic is a spinal or epidural block which leaves the mother awake and alert to bond with her newborn immediately after childbirth. If the Cesarean section is an urgent emergency performed because of maternal bleeding or fetal distress, and there is inadequate time to insert a spinal or epidural local anesthetic into the mother’s lower back, a general anesthetic will be performed. An ETT is always used.

PEDIATRIC SURGERIES: Tonsillectomies are a common procedure and require a breathing tube as described above. Placement of pressure ventilation tubes into a child’s ears requires general anesthetic gases to be delivered via facemask only, and no airway tube is required. Almost all pediatric surgeries require general anesthesia. Infants, toddlers, and children need to be unconscious during surgery, for emotional reasons, because their parents are not present. The majority of pediatric general anesthetics require an airway tube.

CONCLUSIONS: The safe placement of airway tubes for multiple of types of surgeries, in patients varying from newborns to 100-year-olds, is one of the reasons physician anesthesiologists train for many years.

Prior to surgery, some patients are alarmed at the notion of such a breathing tube invading their body. They fear they’ll be awake during the placement of the breathing tube, or that they’ll choke on the breathing tube.

Be reassured that almost every breathing tube is placed after your unconsciousness is assured, and breathing tubes are removed prior to your return to consciousness. A sore throat afterward is common, but be reassured this is a minor complaint that will clear in a few days.

If you have any questions, be sure to discuss them with your own physician anesthesiologist when you meet him or her prior to your surgical procedure.

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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


Is anesthesiology one of America’s most stressful careers? Not according to prominent Internet media sources.

Careercast.com listed the Top 10 Most Stressful Jobs in America in 2015 (http://www.careercast.com/jobs-rated/most-stressful-jobs-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 (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/be_your_best/page/top-10-stressful-jobs-america-14355387), 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, (http://www.salary.com/the-top-10-most-stressful-jobs) 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, (https://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

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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 DO YOU START A PEDIATRIC ANESTHETIC WITHOUT A SECOND ANESTHESIOLOGIST?

Clinical Case: In your first week in community practice post-residency and fellowship, you’re scheduled to anesthetize a 4-year-old for a tonsillectomy. You’ll start the anesthetic without an attending or a second anesthesiologist. How do you start a pediatric anesthetic alone?

Discussion: During residency it’s standard to initiate pediatric cases with an attending at your right hand to mentor and assist you through the induction of anesthesia. The second pair of hands is critical—one of you manages the airway for the inhalation induction, and the second anesthesiologist starts the IV. In community practice you’ll have to manage all this yourself.

A significant percentage of pediatric anesthetics are performed in regional hospitals and surgery centers rather than in pediatric tertiary hospitals. How does the community practice of pediatric anesthesia differ from pediatric anesthesia in residency?

In community practice you’ll likely telephone the parents the night prior to surgery to discuss the anesthetic. It’s uncommon for a 4-year-old and his family to visit any pre-anesthesia clinic. You’ll take a history over the phone from the parents, explain the basics of anesthetic care, and answer any questions they have.

On the morning of surgery you’ll meet the parents and the child. It’s likely you’ll prescribe an oral midazolam premedication. You’ll set up your operating room with appropriate sized pediatric equipment, heeding the M-A-I-D-S mnemonic for Machine and Monitors-Airway-IV-Drugs-Suction.

What about a request from the mother and/or father to accompany the child into the operating room? This author advises against bringing parents into the O.R. Instead premedicate the child to minimize the emotional trauma of separation from the parent(s), and explain that the duration of time from when they hand you their child to when the gas mask is applied will only be a few minutes.

It’s common to induce anesthesia with the child in a sitting position. The one most important monitor you can place prior to induction is the pulse oximeter. Once unconsciousness is attained, the child is laid supine and a pretracheal stethoscope, the ECG leads, and the blood pressure cuff are applied. If you’re not using a pretracheal stethoscope during mask inductions, let me recommend it to you. No other monitor gives you immediate information on the patency of the airway like the stethoscope does. You can remedy partial or total airway obstruction more promptly than if you wait for oxygen desaturation or end-tidal CO2 changes.

Most children have an easy airway and require no more than occasional positive airway pressure via the mask to keep spontaneous ventilation open. Young children scheduled for tonsillectomy sometimes carry the diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) based on a clinical history of snoring, noisy breathing, or daytime somnolence. It’s uncommon for these patients to have a formal sleep study to document OSA. OSA children may have more challenging airways and have an increased incidence of partial airway obstruction during inhalation induction.

In residency I was taught to supplement the potent volatile anesthetic (halothane in decades past) with 50-70% nitrous oxide. Because the blood:gas partition coefficient of sevoflurane is 0.65, comparable to nitrous oxide’s 0.45, anesthetic induction with sevoflurane alone is nearly as fast as sevoflurane-nitrous oxide. The addition of nitrous oxide to the induction mix is unnecessary, and using an FIO2 of 1.0 affords an extra cushion of oxygen reservoir if the airway is difficult or if the airway is lost.

How will you start the IV after induction? There are several options: 1) You can ask the surgeon or a nurse to start the IV. In my experience, neither surgeons nor O.R. nurses are as skilled in starting pediatric IV’s as an anesthesiologist is, so I don’t recommend this plan; 2) You can ask the surgeon or the O.R. nurse to hold the mask and manage the airway while you start the IV. This option is safe if the airway is easy and you trust the airway skills of the other individual; 3) You can stand at your normal anesthesia position, hold the mask over the patient’s airway with your left hand, and ask the nurse to bend the patient’s left arm back toward you. The nurse tourniquets the patient’s arm at the wrist, and with your right hand you perform a one-handed IV start in the back of the patient’s left hand; 4) The option I feel most comfortable with is to fit mask straps behind the patient’s head, and secure the mask in place with the four straps after the patient is fully anesthetized (when their eyes have returned to a conjugate gaze). While the straps hold the mask in place, you listen to the patient’s breathing via the pretracheal stethoscope to assure yourself that the airway is patent. Then move to the left-hand side of the table and start the IV in the child’s left arm. The typical length of time away from the airway should be less than one minute. If the child has no obvious veins, fit the automated blood pressure cuff (in stat mode) on top of the tourniquet on the upper arm. The BP cuff is a superior tourniquet and the inflated cuff makes it easier to find a suitable vein.

Once the IV is in place, proceed with intubating the patient. In community practice the surgical duration of tonsillectomies can be very short, so the choice of muscle relaxant is important. Succinylcholine carries a black box warning for non-emergent use in children, and should not be used for elective intubation. You can: 1) administer rocuronium and later reverse the paralysis with neostigmine plus atropine; 2) administer a dose of propofol, e.g. 2 mg/kg, which blunts airway reflexes enough to allow excellent intubating conditions in most patients; or 3) you can do perform two laryngoscopies, the first to inject 1 ml of 4% lidocaine from a laryngotracheal anesthesia (LTA) kit, and another 30 seconds later to place the endotracheal tube in the now-anesthetized trachea. Some anesthesiologist/surgeon teams prefer an LMA rather than an endotracheal tube. LMA use for tonsillectomy is not routine in our practice, but one advantage is that an LMA does not require paralysis for insertion.

What if you’re working alone and your patient develops acute oxygen desaturation with airway obstruction and/or laryngospasm during inhalation induction before any IV has been placed? What do you do?

If you anesthetize enough children you will have this experience, and it can be frightening. The immediate management is to inject succinylcholine 4 mg/kg plus atropine 0.02 mg/kg intramuscularly, usually into the deltoid. Then you do your best to improve mask ventilation using an oral airway or LMA if necessary. The oxygen saturation may dip below 90% for a short period of time while you wait for the onset of the intramuscular paralysis. Once muscle relaxation is achieved, ventilation should be successful and the oxygen saturation will climb to a safe level. The trachea can then be intubated, and an IV can be started following the intubation.

If such a desaturation occurs, should you cancel the case? It depends. I’d recommend cancelling the case if: 1) the duration of the oxygen saturation was so prolonged that you are worried about hypoxic brain damage; or 2) gastric contents are present in the airway and you are concerned with possible pulmonary aspiration.

Working pediatric cases alone is rewarding as well as stressful. Nothing in my practice brings me as much joy as walking into the waiting room following a pediatric case to inform parents their child is awake and safe. The parents are relieved, and watching the mother-child reunion minutes later in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit is a heart-warming experience.

Not all anesthesiologists will choose to do pediatric cases during their post-residency career. If you will be anesthetizing children alone in community practice, it’s a good idea toward the end of your anesthesia residency or fellowship to ask your pediatric anesthesia attending keep their hands off during induction, so you can hone your skills managing both the airway and IV. That way you’ll be ready and capable of inducing a child alone after you leave training.

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

KIRKUS REVIEW

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

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

Nuanced characterization and crafty details help this debut soar.

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

41wlRoWITkL

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

DSC04882_edited

 

 

AIRWAY LAWSUITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KIRKUS REVIEW

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

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

Nuanced characterization and crafty details help this debut soar.

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

41wlRoWITkL

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

DSC04882_edited

 

 

IS ANESTHESIA A CUSHY SPECIALTY?

Cover image of The House of God

Samuel Shem’s classic novel/satire of medicine, The House of God (published in 1978, more than two million copies sold), follows protagonist Dr. Roy Basch as he struggles through his year as an internal medicine intern. A second physician recommends Basch switch careers to one of six no-patient-contact specialties: Rays, Gas, Path, Derm, Eyes, or Psych. These names translate to radiology, anesthesia, pathology, dermatology, ophthalmology, and psychiatry. These specialties are touted as lower stress choices with superior lifestyles, where time with sick patients is minimized and the physician is more likely to be happy.

Is this true? Is anesthesia worthy of Samuel Shem’s assessment that it’s a cushy specialty?

My answer, after thirty years of anesthesia practice, is … it depends.

Let’s examine each of the six specialties regarding their perceived advantages:

• Radiology involves a career of peering at digital images of X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, or ultrasound studies. Patient contact is minimal. Because many of these tests are ordered in emergency rooms at all hours of the night, on-call radiologists work long hours and endure sleepless nights. As well, the subspecialty of Invasive Radiology has become a hands-on field that requires as much patient contact as most surgical specialties.
• Pathology involves a career of peering through a microscope, running a clinical lab to determine blood and urine chemistry results, or performing autopsies. Most of pathology requires zero contact with living patients. Most pathology work is done in daylight hours, and loss of sleep is unusual.
• Dermatology involves a career of seeing a multitude of patients (think 80 – 100 per day) in a busy clinic practice. Patient volume and patient contact are high. Each clinic visit is brief because only the specific skin lesions in question are fair game for physician-patient interrogation. Hospitalized patients are uncommon, there are few emergencies, and loss of sleep is unusual.
• Ophthalmology involves an office practice of examining the vision and eyes of patients, as well as an operating room practice of performing cataract, retinal, or corneal surgeries. Other than an occasional eye trauma surgery at a late hour, loss of sleep for ophthalmologists is unusual.
• Psychiatry involves an outpatient practice of verbal therapy and/or prescribing oral medications (e.g. antidepressants, anti-anxiety, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder meds). Inpatient psychiatry is usually limited to patients with severe depression and psychotic diseases. Most emergencies are limited to patients with after-hours suicidal ideation or attempts. Loss of sleep is unusual.
• Anesthesiology involves providing unconsciousness and medical management to patients during all types of surgical interventions. Surgeries occur at all hours of the day and night. Loss of sleep is common, and job stress during select cases can be extreme. Let’s examine lifestyle issues of anesthesia practice in more detail:

An anesthesiologist and his or her awake surgical patient are only together for only 15 minutes prior to induction of anesthesia, during which time they exchange information on medical history and informed consent. This brief duration doesn’t exactly qualify for The House of God’s no-patient-contact list, but anesthesia does qualify as very-little-awake-patient contact. Minimal time with conscious patients appeals to physicians who don’t relish prolonged face-to-face patient interaction.

An image of your anesthesiologist playing tennis or golf and then waltzing into the operating room at leisure to do a simple surgery is mistaken. The presence of an anesthesiologist is imperative for nearly every emergency procedure. All emergency medical care follows the guideline of A-B-C, or Airway-Breathing-Circulation, and anesthesiologists are airway specialists nonpareil. Emergency room attendings and head and neck surgeons have certain airway skills, but no other specialty has the depth of airway expertise that anesthesiologists own. An anesthesiologist provides care for 500–1000 patients per year, and every one of these patients requires acute management of the airway to assure safe oxygenation and breathing.

Trauma surgery, childbirth, acute surgical disease from the emergency room, and organ transplant surgery are as common at night as in the daytime. An on-call anesthesiologist at a busy community hospital may arrive at 6:30 a.m., do seven or eight surgical anesthetics which last until dusk, and then remain in the hospital all night to perform several epidural anesthetics on laboring women, anesthetize an 80-year-old woman for surgery to relieve a bowel obstruction, and replace an endotracheal tube in a struggling patient in the intensive care unit as the sun comes up the following day. An on-call anesthesiologist at a university hospital may arrive at 6:30 a.m. and attend to a complex liver-transplant surgery which lasts 20 hours and concludes at 3 a.m. A cushy specialty? Hardly.

A lifestyle advantage for anesthesiologists is that we can work hard and play hard. It’s possible for an anesthesiologist to take weeks or months off at a time if their employer or anesthesia group approves. There’s no chronic patient care/patient follow up, no clinic overhead, and no clinic employee overhead. For these reasons an anesthesiologist can schedule multiple weeks without work or income more easily than a clinic doctor can. For these reasons it’s also possible for an anesthesiologist to work part time, i.e. two or three days each week. This scheduling flexibility is an excellent lifestyle advantage, and for this reason my answer to whether anesthesia is a cushy specialty is … it depends.

Some anesthesiologists choose to spend their career outside the operating room. Some specialize in pain management and see patients in outpatient pain clinics—selected patients are taken to the operating room non-urgently to receive pain-injection procedures such as epidural steroid injections, nerve blocks, or pain pump insertions. A small number of anesthesiologists run preoperative assessment clinics where they assess the medical status of patients prior to surgery. A small number of anesthesiologists supervise intensive care units and manage critically patients who require ventilators, cardio-active medications, and anesthesia sedation infusions.

I’d like to leave you with one image imprinted in your mind—that of an anesthesiologist toiling over an ill patient at 2 a.m. in a hospital. The patient may have survived a car crash, suffered a ruptured appendix, be delivering twin babies, or be the recipient of a lung transplant. Wherever there’s a sick patient who needs acute supervised unconsciousness, there’s an anesthesiologist present. In words John Steinbeck wrote at the conclusion of The Grapes of Wrath, Tom Joad tells his mother,

“I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere.
Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there.
Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there.
I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad.
I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.”

This prompts me to pen parallel text regarding my specialty, entitled
Tom Joad the Anesthesiologist:

I’ll be all around in the dark—I’ll be everywhere.
Wherever you can look—wherever there’s a motorcycle accident, a Cesarean section, a heart transplant, I’ll be there.
Wherever there’s a cop dragging a knifed-up gang member into the E.R., I’ll be there.
I’ll be there when the surgeon screams and when the new mother laughs,
When the 100-year-old gets his hernia mended and when the 4-year-old gets his tonsils out—I’ll be there, too.
Ma, it’s just what I do.
It’s what we all do.

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

KIRKUS REVIEW

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

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

Nuanced characterization and crafty details help this debut soar.

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

41wlRoWITkL

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

DSC04882_edited

 

 

THE PERIOPERATIVE SURGICAL HOME HAS EXISTED FOR YEARS

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

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

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

A surgery center Medical Director is responsible for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KIRKUS REVIEW

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

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

Nuanced characterization and crafty details help this debut soar.

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

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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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