Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Comfort Zones - or "A day in the life of an anaesthetist who hasn't gone away for the holidays"

A recent blog by one of the sublimely funny guys I follow on Twitter ( highlighted the joys of living in the big smoke during the Christmas holidays. It feels like the vast majority of people (who have the wherewithal) simply disappear to the coast, and the streets echo with the sounds of house alarms going off, howling dogs and the incessant ring of my cell-phone.

Now don't get me wrong, being in the service provision industry (I provide immobile, amnestic patients to surgeons), I am well aware that no work = no pay. However, I didn't stay in town to work my a*s off. I'd like to go to my salaried gig, do as little as possible while still looking productive, and then go home to play in the pool with the kids, drink good red wine, and wait for the new year.

Unfortunately, my 'phone, and my colleagues have other ideas. Take today as an example. There are rumours floating around of a really sick cardiac patient in the local private clinic, and a cardiac surgeon desperately looking for an anaesthesiologist to dope the poor sod for his valve replacement. I get a small spike in adrenaline, because this patient, from what I've heard, is practically sitting down to tea with St. Peter. But never fear, my senior colleague is going to do the case. Relief washes over me, until I discover that said senior colleague has a bad case of Bombay bum, and is man-down. Now the job falls to me as the next most senior cardiac anaesthetist.

So what, you say, you are a cardiac anaesthesiologist, how hard could it be? And therein lies the rub. The biggest problem facing me now is not the pre-terminal patient. We get enough of those in our fine ivory tower on the hill. No, my problem is that I am going to be way out of my usual haunts. New hospital, new surgeon (although widely respected), and unfamiliar team = something approaching palpitations.

We take for granted simply knowing where things are. In our hospital, every OR is uniformly equipped and stocked. i.e when I open the third drawer on my trolley, I know exactly what I'll find there. Now I am stuck in an unfamiliar environment, and have to ask the long suffering anaesthetic sister where everything is. It doesn't help that I, being blessed with a Y chromosome can't even see the things directly in front of me. All of this conspires to create a zone of acute discomfort for me, which I'm trying desperately to hide behind a veneer of confidence. It doesn't help that I have never done a private cardiac case before.

Fortunately, the case goes well, the training takes over, and at the end of the day, a cardiac dope is a cardiac dope whether the walls are white or green. I hope no-one noticed my hands shaking....


Clive Simpkins said...

Delightful piece and nice to know that the gods of medicine are human and subject to an appropriate hint of self-doubt as well! You're an excellent writer. Keep the pieces coming. And develop a relationship with St. Peter so you can discuss those you don't wish to send his way!

Gus Silber said...

Great post - eye-opening as well as very entertaining! (My daughter, 10, recently had a small procedure that required the services of a cardiac anaesthetist, so it's great to get an insight into what goes on behind the scenes.)

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