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True Story: An Anesthetist Attempts To Sabotage A Surgeon

There is a sort of love/hate relationship between the surgeons and the anesthetists. Neither one can survive without the other. We supply them with work and they get the work to lie still while we cut and dice. Yet their job is to keep the patient alive while we challenge their ability to stay alive. At the moment of surgery they play good cop and we play bad cop. Of course after surgery the good cop is suddenly the surgeon through and through. But that is another story.

I really appreciate a good anesthetist (I‘ve had bad ones) and to tell the truth these days I’m spoiled by the quality of the gas monkeys that I work with. However many years ago I remember a case where the anesthetist and I had a misunderstanding about time frame.

I was doing a laparotomy in Kalafong. The gas monkey was a long term medical officer. He had attempted to specialize in anesthetics but simply had not been able to pass. In the end he found himself stuck in a senior medical officer job with no way of advancing himself. He was a bitter little man and it was easy for him to take his bitterness out on surgeons.

Towards the end of the operation when I started closing the sheath the patient’s abdominal muscles were so stiff that he was pushing all his intestines through the wound. This did not mean the patient was awake. It simply meant that his muscle relaxant had worn off. It was a tricky time. I needed the patient to be at least partly relaxed, but if the gas monkey fully relaxed the patient he would not be able to wake the patient directly after the operation, thereby wasting all of our time. A good gas monkey will find a compromise between these two extremes. I did not have a good anesthetist. He was also more stuck on the hate side of the relationship between our two disciplines.

“The patient is pushing a bit.” I hinted.

“The operation is almost over,” he snapped, “I’m not going to relax him any more. Otherwise he’ll still be asleep half an hour from now”. I was annoyed to say the least, but I knew it was a fight I couldn’t win. It seemed so important to him to get this patient off the table in half an hour. I smiled. I could close this abdomen with the patient pushing against me, but I couldn’t do it in half an hour. It would take longer. I decided not to share this information with my touchy friend. I buckled down and got to work.

It turned out more difficult than I initially thought it would be. Each stitch was an effort and my assistant ended up straining against the patient to keep the tension on the suture. The gas monkey started becoming edgy, but I ignored him. If anything I slowed down my pace, making sure that, despite his best efforts, I closed the sheath properly.

About an hour later when I finally had it closed the qwasi-gas monkey was so irritated that he couldn’t sit still. I was smiling behind my theater mask. I knew I had closed the sheath properly despite his inadvertent attempt at sabotage. And maybe next time he would pay slightly more attention to my seemingly ridiculous demands.

*This blog post was originally published at other things amanzi*

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