07 Mar A Day in the Life of an Anesthesiologist-Part Four-So, You Think You’re Having a Bad Day
It’s been a record-breaking winter in Minnesota. With snow piled high, an endless chain of dreary skies, and frozen, dirty stalactites dangling from the wheel wells of my car, I might be tempted to sulk. Then I walk into the pre-op area and start interviewing patients.
(The names, I make up. The stories are real.)
Joan was scheduled for a patellar realignment, a run-of-the-mill surgery. On paper it looked like a no-brainer. A general anesthetic with a Propofol induction, LMA, Zofran for nausea, a little Fentanyl and local anesthetic for the pain. An hour surgery, two-hour recovery and she’d be on her way. Right? Wrong? That might be how it looked on paper, but each patient has an ongoing storyline leading up to the moment we meet, and if I’m any good as an anesthesiologist, that’s where I begin.
Joan was sixty, going on seventy-five. A couple months earlier she’d been riding in a van used to transport handicapped people when they were rear-ended by a driver who ran a red light. She broke her shoulder, elbow and tibia and had been living in Transitional Care ever since. She was wheelchair-bound but hoped surgery will allow her to be able to eventually walk with a cane. She spoke highly of her TCU caregivers and how they made her feel like part of their family. In the face of what she’d gone through, the victim of a senseless driver, Joan acted upbeat and grateful for my time. People like Joan who’s spirit shines in the face of adversity give the rest of us hope.
Patients scheduled for the shortest surgical times, fifteen to thirty minutes, are often the ones needing the most encouragement and sensitivity. The young couple experiencing a miscarriage and the woman is scheduled for a fifteen-minute D&C. Or the labor epidural I’m called to place for a woman whose baby died in-utero before it was born. Twenty heart-breaking minutes. Or the Port-a-Cath patient who needs IV access placed before her chemotherapy begins. Or the anxious parents who place their infant in my care for a five-minute ear tube surgery.
Or Amy, the thirty-four-year-old woman with Stage 4 breast cancer and build-up of malignant fluid in her chest. With her stunned husband sitting at her bedside, she looked so tiny, so frail. Her cheeks were flushed. Tears ran down her cheeks. She breathed in shallow pants as she told me her story.
I couldn’t help thinking that instead of dealing with her own death at such a young age, Amy should have been home playing with her toddler, or starting her career, or traveling to Cancun and watching the sunset with her husband. We gave her Versed to relax as we headed into surgery to drain the fluid from her chest, and she said, “Boy, what I wouldn’t give for a bowl of Captain’s Crunch.”
With everything she was facing, a bowl of cereal would have made her day. She didn’t realize it, but Amy infused all of us with her courage. There’s a good chance this she has gone to be with the Lord by now, but Amy’s spirit, her fight, and her bravery remains in my heart.
If you’re having a bad day, remember Joan and Amy and all the rest. Ask your doctor or those around you for help if need be. We all need help from time to time. I find that focusing on others in need helps me keep my own concerns in perspective. Because in all reality, as bad as my day seems, I have it pretty good compared to the ones I’m called to care for.
Next Monday: Anesthesiologist or Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. What’s the Difference?