27 Feb A Day in the Life of an Anesthesiologist-Part One
The first time I plastered myself against a frigid operating room wall watching an anesthesia resident inject a syringeful of Sodium Pentothal into a patient’s vein, I felt like I’d witnessed a lethal injection. But, to everyone else in the room it seemed like it was no big deal. Gasses were turned on, breathing tubes inserted, blood pressures taken, paralytics given, and after the patient’s belly was stitched back together, the patient came back to life. At least that’s how it seemed to me. The arc of my life’s narrative hinges on that miraculous day.
It was 1980 and I was working as an Anesthesia Tech at the University of Iowa Hospital. After four years in the Navy and three more at Iowa State University completing my pre-medical degree, I had failed to get into the University of Iowa’s medical school on my first try. We moved to Iowa City where I was hired on as an Anesthesia Technician, my wife completed her nurse’s training, and I nudged shoulders with the Anesthesia Department chair, Dr. Wendell Stevens, who later wrote a letter of recommendation for my successful admission to medical school the following year.
A lot has changed in the world of anesthesia in forty years. Sodium Pentothal was retired almost twenty years ago in favor of Propofol, an amazing medicine regardless of the notoriety Michael Jackson brought to it. The drugs and gasses we use today have all been invented in my years. The monitors and equipment and techniques and skills, everything is new.
While the technology is amazing, the practice of anesthesia still comes down to helping hurting and anxious people, something I’ll never lose sight of. Each person has a story. Each person has a family. Each person wants to live. No matter how sick, no one wants to go to sleep in the operating room and never wake up. Treating my patients like they’re part of my family is the standard I strive to uphold. God has put these patients under my care for a reason and I’ll do anything in my power to do my best.
Making the right decision every time is of course the biggest challenge. A baseball player safely hitting the ball four out of every ten times at bat will probably win the player of the year award. An anesthesiologist making the right decision four out of every ten times better find a new profession. I help care for twenty, thirty, sometimes forty patients a day, supervising four operating rooms, each staffed by a CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist). These trusted colleagues are the ones performing the case while I bounce around between those four rooms, pre-op, and the recovery room, helping resolve problems. I make hundreds of decisions a day, each one important, sometimes critical. The patients are counting on me. I’m counting on me. The stress can be daunting.
The good news is, my partner Anesthesiologists, CRNAs, Surgeons, Physician’s Assistants, RNs, Nursing Assistants, Surgical Techs, everyone, and I mean everyone, is smart in the health care arena. I and the team of CRNAs I work with, use all our skills, blocks, medicines, and techniques to achieve the best possible outcome. There’s no greater reward than to pass through the recovery room and have patient’s signal me with a nod, smile or thumbs up and say, “Thank you.”
My wife and I watch the TV show America’s Got Talent. While it’s very entertaining, I believe the true winners of that show are the ones working tirelessly in the corridors of America’s operating rooms. They’re the true heroes.
Next time: My Patients Who Never Woke Up