I’m an anesthesiologist. About 8 years ago I started answering questions about anesthesia on an excellent and popular consumer health website called NetWellness. NetWellness is linked to Case Western Reserve University, where I am a faculty member. Answering over 350 questions, most of which can be found on SurgiPrep, my site dedicated to preoperative evaluation, or in their original form on NetWellness, has taught me a lot.
I’ve learned that many people are more worried about anesthesia than they are about their surgery. It’s particularly anxiety provoking when a loved one – a child say, or a parent, is about to “go under”. It’s also a huge concern when things don’t turn out the way people expect. Sometimes, complications, like a breathing problem, a nerve injury, or an allergic reaction, are clearly attributable to the drugs or techniques that are part of anesthesia. People want these problems explained and they want to know how to avoid them in the future.
I’ve discovered to my surprise and fascination that some people will attribute almost any new symptom to a recent anesthetic (examples: curly hair, loss of hair, oily skin, decreased energy, increased energy, bad dreams, bad breath, loss of taste, loss of concentration). Either we anesthesiologists are missing some weird and possibly important stuff happening right beneath our face masks, or we’re not doing a good job of informing and listening to our patients. (It’s probably some of both).
I’ve heard from people angry with the way they’ve been treated by their doctors. Often all they’ve wanted is a bit of time and a simple explanation from their doctors. Problem is, time is a commodity most medical practitioners are short of. I’ve taken time to explain how anesthesia works, how it’s administered, and by whom, what the choices are (when choices exist), and what outcomes, good or bad, can be expected, in the simplest terms possible. (This is despite the reality that general anesthesia, like consciousness itself, is a rather mysterious process and the science underlying it is still being explored).
Why do I care to do this? Most anesthesiologists don’t go into their field because they like to chat, but during my earlier professional career I was forced to do a lot of it – first during a 6 month stint as a psychiatry house officer (in Harare, Zimbabwe!) and later as a family physician (in Saskatchewan, Canada). I recognized the power of talk, as an expression of caring and a mechanism of healing. Perhaps something rubbed off. I am not the most garrulous individual (pardon the pun) but I do like to write and I enjoy trying to make scientific and medical concepts more understandable.
In this blog I hope to explore, in a little more depth, some of the issues, weird and commonplace, expected and unexpected, that my NetWellness correspondents have brought to light. This blog does not replace an interview with your friendly local anesthesiologist, or surgeon, but reading the articles I post here may help you to have an informed conversation with your doctors when its your time to undergo a medical or surgical procedure requiring anesthesia.
Please join me on this journey.
Gary Kantor, MD