Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Anatomy of a day shift

A mere six months after the first post in this series, I’m going to continue my Anatomy of… series and tell you about a normal working day.

 Anatomy of a Day Shift


 I pull up into the hospital car park, grab my bag and make my way towards the main entrance. When I was working as a junior physician, we started work at 9am. Anaesthetists start work an hour earlier, which gives us time to pre-assess our patients before the operating theatre lists start at 9. I’m well used to the earlier start now and one of the good things about it is that there’s always plenty of space to park in the hospital car park and I don’t have to drive around it for five minutes every day trying to find a vacant spot.


 I’ve decided to come to work “casual” today, so I change into some scrubs before I go and see the patients. At our hospital, there is a distinct shortage of “medium” and “large” scrubs, but plenty in the “XXL” and “gigantic” sizes, but today I’m lucky. I quickly change into the scrubs and head out to find a copy of the anaesthetic rota so I can find out where I’m working.



Chair Dental

Dr McAndrew

Dr Anderson

 Fair enough. I actually really quite enjoy chair dental lists. When children need teeth extracting under general anaesthesia, they can come to one of the chair dental lists. What’s meant to happen is this: The child enters the room with their parent, sits in the dentist’s chair. The anaesthetist gives a quick gas-induced general anaesthetic, the dentist whips out the offending teeth, the child wakes up and then goes home. It’s very quick, it’s very simple and I really enjoy meeting kids, so I find these mornings really good fun.

 It takes ages for the nurses to get all the children checked in and prepared so the chair dental theatre list never starts on time. The children have all been seen in the pre-assessment clinic so there’s little point in me going down there and waiting, I just get in the way. I make my way to the doctor’s mess to have some toast and a cup of tea.


 I wander into the theatre and say hello to the theatre team. Catherine is the dentist today, and she’s in a particularly joyous mood. Soon after I arrive Dr McAndrew, the consultant anaesthetist, walks in. I like this man. He’s coming up to retirement and is pretty much the embodiment of the phrase “old school.”

 “Look, Michael,” he says to me. “You’ve done this list before with me haven’t you?”

I nod the affirmative.

“So you know that it’s basically fucking boring. If there’s anything else you want to do, or any other list that you want to join that you feel will be more interesting, please feel free to go off and do it.”

“Actually Dr McAndrew, I would quite like to stay and do this. I need to do more paediatric stuff, and perhaps we can do some of my Workplace Assessments this morning as well?”

“Fine, it’s your choice. Tell you what, you can do everything this morning and I’ll just hover in the background and make the occasional sarcastic comment. Show me your paperwork – let’s have a look at some of these forms you want me to fill in.”

The nurse tells us that she’s going to get the first child round and I prepare to give the first gas induction. 

The morning passes by pretty uneventfully. The children are well behaved and there were no major dramas. Actually, that’s not true. There were a couple of dramas – one of the children had particularly a particularly stubborn molar tooth. Catherine, the dentist pulled and pulled and huffed and puffed and then the tooth broke and she had to take it out in pieces. She had to stop a few times so I could give the kid some oxygen, but the tooth came out eventually. The last child of the morning was also the oldest (10), so I assumed she’d give me the fewest problems. I was wrong. She got to the stage where she was partially anaesthetised and then her heart slowed down dramatically to the point where it was dangerously slow (down to 32bpm at one point). Dr McAndrew lay the chair flat and I quickly put a cannula into her hand and gave her some glycopyrrolate and this sorted out the problem.

Interestingly, when these things were happening, at no point did I feel out of control, nor did I feel that the children were going to come to harm. These things now seem to me to be run-of-the-mill hurdles that the job as anaesthetist necessarily entails. I guess I’m become more experienced and I know exactly what to do in these situations, hence why these things worry me much less than they used to.


 The other good thing about this list is that it frequently finishes early. This gives me a chance to pester Dr McAndrew into going through a case-based discussion form with me. I have to say, that I’m finding these flipping pieces of paper more and more tedious. Apparently, the forms allow the deanery (who are in overall charge of my training) to tell which are the good doctors and which are the bad ones. I don’t believe this for a second, all they are tedious exercises in form filling. Dr McAndrew tries to make it a bit more interesting and we have a bit of a chat about various neuro-muscular blocking drugs, but really, I just want the piece of paper signed.


 I head back to the Department of Anaesthesia, there’s a lunchtime meeting today, so the consultants, staff grades and trainees gradually filter into the meeting room. Most of the chat is about the pandemic ‘flu and the (lack of) training or advice that we’ve all received. It seems to me that the way my hospital is preparing boils down to “let’s all hope it doesn’t get serious, if we ignore it enough, maybe it’ll all go away.”


The meeting begins, one of the other ST2 anaesthetists presents a recent piece of anaesthetic research and we have a discussion about it afterwards. Sometimes these discussions just end up with consultants ranting on about their own particular hobby-horse, but today’s was actually quite interesting.


I pick up my copy of the afternoon list and I’m going to be flying solo this afternoon. I’m doing gynaecology day-case with no direct supervision this afternoon, the patients are all young, healthy women, so I’m not expecting any problems. I go through all the routine pre-op stuff with each of them and then head back to the operating theatres to prepare my drugs and equipment.


Janet is the ODP working with me this afternoon. After briefing her about the patients and my plan for them, we manage to kick the afternoon theatre list off (just about) on time.


Mr Jeffries, the consultant gynaecologist, has a SHO and a couple of medical students with him today, so there’s a lot of chatter going on down at the “surgical end” of the patient. Mr Jeffries’ style of teaching is to ask loads of questions at the students in rapid succession and then wait for some sort of response. At first, this seems to bamboozle the students and I smirk to myself as I see their worried faces – I remember being in their position only too well. The medical students are quite bright though, and they soon figure out that by picking just one of the questions that Mr Jeffries fires at them and answering that one, Mr Jeffries would forget he asked the others and then answer them all himself.


The students have gone now, leaving Mr Jeffries and his SHO to finish the last case. The afternoon has passed calmly and uneventfully, just how I wished. I’ve had chats with Janet, Mr Jeffries and the rest of the theatre team and feel I know them all a little bit better now.


This is my favourite part of the day. I go back to the ward where my patients are recovering after their operations. They’re all reasonably comfortable and they all thank me for what I did. I wish them a speedy recovery and then go and get changed. As I’m leaving work, Big Ed texts me to see if I’m up for tonight’s pub quiz. I’d forgotten that it was quiz night and was planning on going running this evening. I weigh the options up for a moment then decide that a pint and banter is probably more fun. I text back:

 Absolutely! See you at half 7

 And then get into my car and drive home.


Ben said...

nice to see you get a nice day from time to time... so all this stuff about being stressed out all the time is all bullshit yeah?

ha i jest.

Joel said...

Interesting list of activities Doctor! I've often wondered about practitioners' schedules. Now, I have a pretty good idea of what goes on a normal day.

Sedation through anesthesia is quite common in the dental industry. This is usually prescribed to children and patients who have a high level of anxiety prior to a certain procedure. My brother visited his cosmetic dentist, Chicago based, last month. cosmetic dentistry (Chicago and other places) is needed in his case because majority of his teeth needs restoration. He had to undergo general anesthesia because he had a dental trauma. Fortunately, the sedation worked and his treatments are successful.

Thanks for sharing your experience!