“Good morning, Mrs Romano. My name is Michael and I’m one of the anaesthetic doctors. It’s my job to put you to sleep for your operation today and to wake you up again afterwards. How are you feeling today?”
She shrugs and grunts at me
“Had better days, yeah?”
“Something like that. I’m really nervous”
She didn’t need to tell me this. She was obviously very scared. She was twitchy, she only made fleeting eye contact and she was gripping onto the side of her chair so hard that her knuckles were turning white.
I do my best to put her at ease while I take an anaesthetic history from Mrs Romano and examine her. She’s pretty fit and well and there is nothing that would lead me to expect any problems with the anaesthetic. I then give my usual “what happens when you have an anaesthetic” speech and ask if there’s anything she unsure of or wants to ask me.
“Not really,” she replies.
“Is there anything in particular that you’re worried about?” I press.
“It’s just… It’s just the lack of control isn’t it? I’m scared I’m not going to wake up again." With this, she bursts into tears.
I’ve only been an anaesthetist for a few months, but being afraid of not being in control is something that my patients tell me time and time again. It’s a very valid concern. Having an anaesthetic is a very weird thing and by consenting to it, you are putting your ability to feel things, your ability to think, your ability to breathe and literally your life in the hands of someone you’ve just met (me). I know that some may say that anaesthetists do fuck all, but in reality, giving a general anaesthetic is a colossal responsibility and literally people’s lives depend on me being switched on enough to sort out any problems that may occur before, during and after the operation.
I fetch Mrs Romano a tissue and give her a moment to recompose herself. “I understand how you feel,” I say. “Having an anaesthetic isn’t something that happens every day is it? And I know that you are putting an incredible amount of trust in me. Please remember though, that I do this every day. I stay right next to you the whole time you’re asleep. I never leave you side and I promise to look after you. If it helps, I could go through the risks of what might go wrong. The chances of something going badly are very small indeed, especially as you’ve had anaesthetics in the past and have been OK with them. Would you like me to go through the risks with you?”
She nods and I go into my “risks of general anaesthesia” speech and ask her if there was anything that she’d like me to clarify.”
“No, not really,” she replies. “I sort of just want it to be over as soon as possible.”
I give a half smile and say, “well, it won’t be much longer now. I imagine they’ll come to collect you at about an hour and a half. I’ll see you downstairs Mrs Romano.”
“Yeah, sure” she grunts, “I’ll see you later.”
To be continued…