Masters of Sleep
Anesthesia has been available in many forms for hundreds of years, but it wasn't until Queen Victoria was given chloroform during the birth of her eighth child that it gained wide acceptance. The use of chloroform became fashionable and what was fashionable soon became acceptable.
Today, it's hard to imagine undergoing any kind of surgical procedure without an anesthetic, yet that was once the norm.
The Owen Sound Regional Hospital has a group of ten specialist physicians called anesthesiologists who are devoted to the comfort of patients before, during and after surgical procedures.
Dr. Eric Brown is the Chief Anesthesiologist at the hospital. He says the training for this highly specialized position is rigorous. “To become an anesthesiologist you need a Bachelor of Science degree. Then four years of medical school. After medical school, you enter a five-year residency program, during which time you provide anesthesia to patients during many different kinds of surgery.”
During residency, anesthesiologists are trained in human physiology, particularly the functions of the heart, brain, lungs, kidneys and liver. They become experts on the drugs used for anesthesia and intensive care medicine.
Anesthesiologists become familiar with medical conditions and their implications for patients undergoing a wide range of surgical procedures. During residency, they gain experience with surgical procedures and patients of all ages, sizes and states of health.
Many people equate the role of the anesthesiologist with the Operating Room only, but it's a job that has changed over the years to include much more. By the end of their training, they are also experts in resuscitation, critical care and pain management.
“A lot of anesthesia is about pharmacology and physiology. If somebody has pain there are physiological, psychological and social factors that come into play. Proper medication is often vital in dealing with the underlying physiological component, so our profession has a lot to contribute to pain management.”
Anesthesiologists are now referred to as perioperative specialists, meaning their work begins prior to surgery, at an assessment clinic held to discuss options with surgical patients. Issues such as the type of anesthetic to be used, its side effects, and the speed of recovery are reviewed, as well as any concerns the patient might have regarding the surgery or its long-term effects.
"Once we get into the OR, our job is to ensure that they are safe and comfortable during the procedure," Brown says.
“We monitor blood pressure, heart rhythm and rate, oxygen level in the blood and the concentration of anesthetic in the bloodstream. We make sure the patient is warm and either sound asleep or with the surgical area well frozen. At critical parts of the surgery we make sure they are immobile and we intervene to correct disturbances the surgery causes.”
When the surgery is finished, the anesthesiologist wakes the patient up, moves them into the Recovery Room and follows up later on. In Owen Sound, many of them also participate in the Acute Pain Service. "Each day, one of us will visit all patients who are on the Service," Brown says, "so after they've had surgery we go around and ensure patients are comfortable."
Anesthesiologists also take part in the Chronic Pain Clinic for people with longstanding pain issues and many work in the Intensive Care Unit.
"We have a great surgical staff here, excellent nurses, and a really good anesthetic team,” Brown says. “The hospital and the people who support it do an excellent job of purchasing equipment, keeping it current, and making it the kind of place that people want to work. We are so fortunate to have a community that cares so much about excellent health care on a local level."