Mary is 58 years old and she has bad arthritis. So bad, in fact, that she needs an operation to replace her knee joint to allow her to walk properly again and today is the day that Mary will have her surgery. The roster meant that it was my responsibility (along with my consultant, of course) to give her the anaesthetic that allowed the surgery to happen.
Having surgery is a very scary thing.
Having an anaesthetic is a very scary thing.
I’m lucky enough to have never needed surgery for anything but - even after the best part of a decade’s worth of medical training - if I ever were to have an operation, I’d be petrified.
The thing that scares me the most would be the loss of control. In order to have an anaesthetic, I’d have to totally relinquish control of everything. I’d have to put myself in another person’s hands and I’d have no say or influence over what they do to me. I’d have to allow myself to be put to sleep without knowing for sure whether or not I’d ever wake up again. Or not be sure that when I do wake up, that my body will be working like it should. It requires a phenomenal amount of trust to hand over control of your movement, your breathing and your life to another human being – especially one that I’ve met only a couple hours before the operation.
But this is exactly what every single one of my patients does. As an anaesthetist, I literally have their lives in my hands. If I fuck up, people die – quickly. The trust that my patients give me is a huge gift. To trust someone with your life is probably the biggest gift one person could give to another and I promise to always remember this and to never underestimate, undervalue or abuse the faith that they put in me.
We anaesthetised Mary. We gave her lots of painkillers and set her up on the ventilator that pumped oxygen in and out of her lungs to keep her alive. The orthopaedic surgeon was drilling a hole down the middle of her thigh bone and the operating theatre was filled with the high-pitched screech of metal tearing through bone and the smell of charred flesh from the cauteriser.
I knew that Mary couldn’t hear me but that didn’t matter, I leant down and whispered to her, “Don’t worry Mary, I’ll look after you. I’m right here.”