If you’ve had surgery before, you almost certainly remember who your surgeon was. You’ve probably thanked them countless times for getting you through a scary time. Whether they excised your cancerous tissue, repaired your ACL, or removed your inflamed gallbladder, you have likely sung their praise, time, and time again.
But do you remember who your anesthesiologist was the day of your surgery? Probably not, and that’s okay. You may recall them as the quiet doctor, or maybe they eased your nerves prior to placing your IV. You might not remember anything at all if it was an emergent or urgent case, and you were “put to sleep” before you even saw their face.
Your anesthesiologist is the man or woman behind the drape, at the head of the bed, next to a machine with a bunch of buttons that no one but they understand. They’re skilled with procedures, have a cart full of drugs that they know inside and out, and monitor patient’s hemodynamics throughout the case. They resuscitate you when you are losing too much blood. They keep you breathing. They make sure your blood continues to circulate and perfuse your organs. They control your pain. They make sure you don’t remember any of the surgery. And most importantly, they make sure you wake up.
But right now, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re the people in my hospital who are running into possible or confirmed COVID-19 patient rooms to place a breathing tube to give patients a fighting chance. Despite this being the most aerosolizing of procedures, anesthesiologists and ICU doctors are gowning up and facing COVID-19 head-on. I can only speak for my own hospital, but they are being pulled left and right to make sure that patients receive appropriate and timely endotracheal intubations. And they’re not complaining about it. While none of us expected this virus to have this kind of impact on society, they’re still fearlessly waking up early in the morning, heading to work, and delivering admirable patient care.
Unfortunately, it feels as though it took a pandemic to remind us that medicine relies on the interdisciplinary efforts of multiple team members. Because the reality is, this pandemic hasn’t changed anything. Anesthesiologists have been doing exactly what they’ve been doing for years. They work with nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, surgeons, ICU doctors, and hospitalists on a daily basis, to better serve the critically ill patients who need them the most. Now more than ever, they have been putting their oaths and vows to the test, jeopardizing their own health and wellness to help patients.
So the next time you come across an anesthesiologist, or respiratory therapist, pharmacist, nurses, and even the janitorial staff, make an effort to remember their name and thank them. I have never been more proud to be in medicine, working alongside devoted medical staff. I am in my anesthesiology residency, and if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that I chose the best specialty for me.
Tiffany Pouldar is an anesthesiology resident.
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