If surgery is in your future, it’s never too early to prepare. Whether you’re having an outpatient procedure or a major operation involving a hospital stay, the American Society of Anesthesiologists encourages you to take simple steps to be ready for the big day, starting with talking with your physician anesthesiologist, a vital member of your care team.
No one understands this more than 18-year-old Hunter Jones, who was diagnosed with a rare case of colon cancer and is grateful her physician anesthesiologist, Mary Herman, M.D., Ph.D., called off her initial cancer surgery. During the preoperative evaluation with Dr. Herman, Hunter mentioned a tingly feeling and numbness in her legs after her previous anesthesia experiences, including not being able to walk for a few days. Her symptoms sounded alarm bells for Dr. Herman, and she sent Hunter for additional tests, which revealed a brain tumor. If Hunter had proceeded with the anesthesia and colon cancer surgery, she might have been permanently paralyzed.
“Hunter’s experience illustrates just how important it is to talk to your physician anesthesiologist before a procedure to fully discuss your health, even something you might not think is relevant,” said Jeffrey Plagenhoef, M.D., ASA president. “This discussion is critical to patient safety and determining when patients are ready for a procedure.”
ASA offers the following steps to take before surgery to ensure the safest outcome:
Find out who will provide the anesthesia – Be sure your anesthesia care is led by a physician anesthesiologist. You may ask, “What does a physician anesthesiologist do?” A physician anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who specializes in anesthesia, pain and critical care medicine and works with your surgeon and other physicians to develop and administer your anesthesia care plan. Physician anesthesiologists have 12 to 14 years of medical education and 12,000 to 16,000 hours of clinical training to ensure safe, high-quality care.
Talk with your physician anesthesiologist – As Hunter can attest, open communication is vital to ensuring the safest care. Your physician anesthesiologist will create a care plan for you, but you must provide detailed information. When you talk with your physician anesthesiologist before the procedure, be sure to discuss:
- Your health and medications – Provide your physician anesthesiologist details about your health, including how active you are, if you snore, and whether you have chronic health issues such as heart or lung problems, liver or kidney disease, allergies or any other medical conditions. Bring your full list of medications to the meeting, and don’t forget to include your vitamins and supplements. You may need to stop taking some of them temporarily because they may react with the anesthesia.
- Your use of recreational or illicit drugs – The use of recreational or illicit drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, narcotics, and stimulants, among others, should be discussed with your physician anesthesiologist. These substances can have a significant impact on your reaction to medications used to provide anesthesia and can affect the amount of anesthetic and pain medications you may require, not to mention the negative effects of these substances on your body.
- Your experience with anesthesia – If you’ve had a bad reaction with anesthesia, pain medication or anesthesia side effects in the past (or a family member has), it’s important to tell your physician anesthesiologist.
- Your fears – Let your physician anesthesiologist know if you’re afraid of surgery or anesthesia. He or she can give you information to help you feel better.
- Your questions – Write down your questions and bring them with you when you meet your physician anesthesiologist to be sure everything you’d like to know is discussed.
- Your recovery – The physician anesthesiologist continues to care for you after surgery, so ask how any pain will be managed. Ask about any concerns you have regarding recovery, returning home and getting back to your normal routine.
Now attending college, Hunter runs Hope for Hunter, a fund she created that donates Chemo Cozy jackets to children and young adults undergoing cancer treatment. She is thankful she told her physician anesthesiologist about her previous anesthesia experiences.
“It’s very rare that I postpone a surgery, because our entire medical team works together with our patients to ensure we’ve carefully reviewed their history, physical exam and made sure they are optimized before surgery,” said Dr. Herman. “Hunter’s case was the best anesthetic I never gave.”
For more information, download ASA’s Preparing for Surgery: An Anesthesia Checklist. To learn more about the critical role physician anesthesiologists play before, during and after surgery, visit www.asahq.org/WhenSecondsCount.