Don’t always blame anesthesia for problems in the OR

People blame anesthesia personnel for everything. You name it, they blame us for it. They call us by the umbrella name “Anesthesia” and if there’s a problem, it’s always “Anesthesia’s” fault.

Got into the room late? Blame Anesthesia. (Even though the anesthetist’s been sitting at the bedside for twenty minutes waiting for the surgeon or the nurses to be ready.)

Patient craving ice cream when she woke up? Must be Anesthesia’s fault.

No more coffee in the break room? It’s because of Anesthesia.

Think I’m exaggerating? Spend a day in any O.R. in the country and count how many times someone says, “It’s because of Anesthesia.”

Why? Because it’s easy to point the finger at the people / work / department you understand the least. The practice of anesthesia is poorly understood by people outside the specialty, so it makes the perfect scapegoat for everything.

I recently heard about a conversation that exemplifies exactly what I’m talking about. My chief was explaining to some of the O.R. nurses what happened to a patient who experienced a known but uncommon complication from one of the materials used by the surgeon during the procedure.

“Yeah,” my chief said, “X event happened after the surgeon put in Substance Y for that part of Operation Z.”

One of the nurses replied, “Really? How did you [anesthesia] guys cause that?!”

The attitude is so ingrained people can’t even detect the nonsensical nature of their own illogical utterances.

The practice of anesthesia looks easy but if people were to try it for a day I think they’d come away pretty spent. When the endpoint is a smooth course, with “nothing unusual happening,” the expertise, planning, and careful execution are easy to take for granted. For the record: we prevent or correct many more problems than we cause. When you hear someone say, “It’s because of Anesthesia,” think twice. You’re probably not getting the whole picture.

“Anesthesioboist T” is an anesthesiologist who blogs at Notes of an Anesthesioboist.

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