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.

Hiking with Heart

This past weekend, my husband and I went on a hike. We live in the mountains, so we try to do this often.

But this hike was different. This hike was with hundreds of our friends.

JEEZ, does this girl REALLY have hundreds of friends?? Well, in a way, yes! We hiked with an amazing organization called Jen’s Friends and it was an all-out community effort.

One of the many inspiring signs along the hike

I was first introduced to Jen’s Friends when I was going through cancer treatment. I had heard of the group, but I had never really taken notice until I was going into the local hospital for hydration therapy during treatment. The nurses practically shoved the paperwork into my bag to sign up as a patient.

Of course I didn’t really want to be labeled as a cancer patient (although I certainly looked the part after losing 20 pounds). I reluctantly signed up thinking I might need the support in the future.

I quickly found out that this group does it all! They help local people with ALL things related to cancer treatment. Groceries, gas, transportation, bills, EVERYTHING! They ought to be a part of the “Miracle Network”, because they are truly a life saver for many people in the area with cancer.

The organization was first started to help a girl named Jen with her cancer treatment. It grew to be a completely non-profit volunteer organization with 100% of the proceeds going to help people with cancer throughout all stages of treatment and healing. They provide monetary and emotional support in ways I wish ALL communities would provide.

So last weekend, my husband and I climbed a mountain. It was a tough climb, but the few hours we spent huffing and puffing were nothing compared to the climb we had through cancer treatment. If we could hike this mountain last weekend, we could hike any mountain, big or small.

And we did it with hundreds of our friends.

To find out more about Jen’s Friends, please visit their web page at http://jensfriends.org/wordpress/

Career vs Cancer

Before cancer, I was a self-described work-a-holic. I moved from Georgia to Boston for work opportunities and then back down to Florida 3 years later for anesthesia school. I took on everything and anything that would advance my career, with a 60 hour work week becoming the norm.

Late nights, TONS of unmanaged stress, a poor diet and lack of sleep all began to creep into my daily life. My weekends and relax time became shorter and shorter. I found myself wishing for a different job, a different life that I could enjoy.

But I trudged on, thinking that this was what people did to get ahead in life.

My career was my life. It was my personality. It involved everything I stood for and everything I wanted (or THOUGHT I wanted) in my life.

In Santiago, Chile for a neurosurgery conference

But when I was diagnosed with cancer, I really had to rethink what I wanted in life. Do I want a career? Or do I want a life? I knew that it was a decision that would change the direction of my whole being. I had the chance to rewrite my future chapters before they got away from me.

And the most important question boiled down to this: Did I want to make a life or make a living?

I knew that if I dedicated the same amount of time and energy to fighting my disease as I did to my career, I’d win the fight. I’d been a work-a-holic, and that took time and dedication. If I switched that time and dedication over to fighting cancer, how could I NOT win?

It became a clear decision for me – I quit my career to fight my disease full-time.

This decision wasn’t easy. But for me, it was the best decision I could make for my health. I dedicated my time to a healthy diet, yoga, meditation, and researching everything I could on the immune system, cancer, and holistic health.

I’ve never looked back.

Once I was through treatment and had a clean set of scans, I began to think about work again. What did I want in a career? This diagnosis had changed my life, my mindset and my future. I wanted a career that was rewarding, but I needed it to work with my new way of life and my new normal.

On a mission trip in 2007

I didn’t want to go back to the life I had before cancer. My “career before self” mentality had passed. I chose to make a life rather than a living when going back to work.

Perhaps this is what people mean when they say they want a “work life balance”. Balance is a choice – you have to mentally decide what you want in life. Cancer forced me to make a lot of tough choices, and my choice in career was one of them.

After cancer, you have the ability to rewrite your future. There’s something about looking at death that makes you reevaluate life.

Do what you love, make life worth living, and create your own happiness.

How we Forgot the Psychology of Medicine

While reading “mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer” I really began to understand the idea of Psychoneuroimmunology (or PNI). There are so many connections between our brain, the nervous system, and our immune response that we truly can’t connect all the dots.

Even the forward of this book gets into dirty detail about PNI, stating “the influence of psychological and psychosocial factors may well determine the immunological consequences of exposure to a variety of invading stressors” which may progress into heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune disease.

We know FOR A FACT that there is an intricate connection between thought processes, the nervous system, and the immune system. People who present as “nervous nellies” who break down with stress have more chronic diseases. Stress revs your nervous system and your fight-or-flight response. If your nervous system is always on high alert, your body releases neurotransmitters such as Epinephrine as well as corticosteroids, which put a lid on the immune system.

And over time, chronic stress = inflammation + lowered immune system = disease

This is a straight up fact. I can’t even put a citation because every medical book states this very thing.

Yet, to this day, we cannot concede the fact that this connection exists. No neurologist or oncologist or family medicine practitioner will EVER explain this to you. No oncologist has mentioned this connection to me, and neither has any oncology NP, PA, nurse, or surgeon.

And quite frankly, this is totally bogus. The fields of nutrition, PNI, stress reduction and visualization have been around for decades. Yet, we as a healthcare field completely ignore them.

“Cancer is just a random mutation of your cells” they say. At the most basic level that is part of the problem, but not the cause. So WHAT IS THE REAL CAUSE?

NOT the random mutation. With million of cells and cells replicating every second, this cannot be the true cause. Our bodies effectively attack anything that’s not supposed to be there on a daily basis.

It’s the fact that your body doesn’t have the proper immune function.

Based on my care, which I have to say was top notch, there was nothing I could do besides immunotherapy. Only a dangerous drug to improve my very own immune system could improve my well being. There were no alternative or supplemental treatments or preventative measures available to help me fight or cope with my cancer diagnosis.

So why do we deny all this proven science? Why do we deny the fact that our nervous system (and our mindset) control so much more than we give it credit for? How did the Psychoneuroimmunology connection get ditched as a real science?

WHY you ask? Well, it was the advent of the “double blind study”.

Science has to be proven by science. Once pharmacology became a science with money to back it, studies became bigger and better. We had to have “double blind” studies of thousands of patients, where one group was given a placebo and the other a dud. This, scientifically, PROVED that the drug was working.

But how do you prove a soft science such as meditation? There’s no way to give a ‘sugar pill’ of meditation to a patient without their knowledge. That’s the beauty of a sugar pill – patients believe that it may be a real drug, and so they begin to improve.

(Side note – the Placebo effect is a real thing! This Harvard study found that people with “placebo” acupuncture and a caring acupuncturist had a 62% improvement of IBS symptoms!! That’s more improvement than the majority of cancer treatments today.

PNI treatments take time to improve health. Just like any REAL life changes, there is NO overnight cure. If we change our mindset, we can change our lives one day at a time. Meditation and managing stress, for example, take months or years before the person begins to feel less stressed.

We’ve forgotten that there’s a brain attached to our bodies. We’ve forgotten that a person’s perception effects how they feel and how they respond. We look at numbers and figures and studies every day in the medical sciences.

But how often do we realize that the person in front of us isn’t a just number?

Two Doctor-Written Cancer Books that I LOVE

I get comments all the time that my lifestyle is a little frou-frou and that the squishy stuff that I write about has no proof. Many people who are actually going through immunotherapy themselves try and dispel the fact that cancer, for the most part, is preventable with a healthy immune system.

Au contraire, my friends. There is lots of science to prove this fact. Hell, the fact that boosting the body’s immune system kills cancer cells proves this fact!!

But, since I’m NOT a doctor, and I don’t have thousands of hours of proof in this realm, I’ll let these two wonderful MD authors speak for themselves.

You can find this book at https://www.amazon.com/Anticancer-New-Life-David-Servan-Schreiber/dp/0670021644

The book that really reached me first when I was going through my treatment options was a book by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber named “Anticancer: A New Way of Life”.

This book goes through EVERYTHING that you need to know to change your life and prevent cancer. He really focuses on diet, which I agree has a huge impact on cancer treatment. Food has been medicine for centuries – only recently did we begin to depend on pharmaceuticals.

He also touches on the fact that cancer MAY be preventable. This is a tough idea to swallow, because many cancer patients don’t want to think that their lifestyle may be to blame. I know I didn’t want to admit it, either. But he really digs in to the root causes of cancer (with facts and figures) and lifestyle is a biggie.

You can find this book at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mind-as-healer-mind-as-slayer-kenneth-r-pelletier/1012445280

The second book that I love is “Mind As Healer, Mind As Slayer” by Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier. This book really opened my eyes to the mind-body connection. I always knew that there was so much more to health than just the body, and this book nails it.

Not only that, but it has a HUGE amount of info on studies that show how this connection works. He goes in-depth on stress and its contribution to disease. I’ve always had a sneaky suspicion that the amount of stress I was enduring around the time of my diagnosis contributed to my immune system’s default. Dr. Pelletier explains this in detail and then describes stress reduction techniques. EXACTLY what I need!!

These two books are must-reads for anyone who wants to delve into the science behind cancer. Not the pharmacology-based science that wants you to be a zombie and endure poison to be cancer free. The kind of science that says “YOU can control your destiny”.

So do it, all you cancer fighters!! Control your destiny!!