A day in the life of an anesthetist

Ahhhh, the operating room. The OR. Where I work. It’s a mysterious place that brings mixed emotions to the general population. Many people think the OR is either really cool or really scary. I am personally immune to thinking either, but I CAN promise you that the operating room is NOT like anything you see on TV.

The operating room is kind of like Vegas – what happens in the OR stays in the OR. Since people undergo anesthesia for their operations, no one REALLY knows what goes on in those bright white rooms unless you work there.

But millions of people enter these rooms every year to have surgery. MILLIONS. Meaning, more than likely, you will have surgery in your lifetime. Perhaps it’s to fix a joint or a broken bone. Or maybe you need your appendix out. I personally had all my lymph nodes in my left groin removed as my cancer progressed, so I know how scary surgery can be when you’re the one in need.

Whatever the reason you need surgery, you will need to rely on one very specific person/team to keep you alive.

No, not the surgical team. The anesthesia team.

The anesthesia team is your BFF in surgery. We keep you safe and sound throughout your procedure. We are like an internist/pharmacist/pulmonologist/cardiologist all wrapped up into one.

So what the heck does THAT mean?? What is involved in anesthesia?

We have lots of fancy equipment to look at the most important systems in your body. We keep your blood pressure and heart rate in a normal range and your blood going to your organs. We use a ventilator to help you breathe. We look at your history to know what systems we need to focus on (such as your kidneys/liver/blood sugar) to keep them within normal limits. We have every possible drug we need to keep you alive.

All this takes a LOT of knowledge. Every drug we give has side effects. Every tweak has an effect. Some days are a tightrope walk to keep everything in balance. Anesthesia is what makes surgery safe.

But even more than keeping your body functioning, we keep you asleep and without pain throughout your procedure. Surgeons can do amazing things, but they cannot do their jobs while you are awake.

This is also the most terrifying part of anesthesia. Many people ask me “will I wake up” or “will I feel any pain?” The odds of waking up during surgery are between 0.1 – 1%, depending on the situation. You are more likely to be born with 6 fingers or get a hole in one than wake up during your surgery.

Undergoing surgery is similar to getting on a plane. The fear of undergoing anesthesia is mostly due to a fear of letting go – we do not like the complete lack of control. Someone else is in the driver’s seat with our bodies.

And that’s scary. Don’t let this fear rule your decisions. Surgery is safer now than ever before, thanks to improvements in surgical and anesthetic techniques.

So before your next surgery, make friends with your anesthesia team. Even while you are asleep, they will be your guardian angel.

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