18-10 Segment 2: The Mystery of Anesthesia

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Anesthesia is one of the most commonly used medical practices. It is used on patients who are undergoing surgery in order to make them unconscious for the duration of the procedure. Despite being a well used practice, doctors admit that they do not know how anesthesia actually works–only how to control it.

Since anesthesia is an important aspect of surgeries because it ensures that the patient has no recollection of the pain, anesthesiologists must be well trained. Dr. Henry Jay Przybylo, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at Northwestern University School of Medicine and author of Counting Backwards: A Doctor’s Notes on Anesthesiology, explains that anesthesiologists must first finish medical school, and then they receive additional training. While administering anesthesia is a simple task on most patients, he explains that some patients can react differently and the anesthesiologist must be able to adjust to it.

In the 1990s, technological advancements not only made the medical practice easier, but they also made it safer. Dr. Przybylo explains that it became easier to measure the gases that were being inhaled and exhaled by the patient because they now had monitors and screens to better track these measures. Despite improved technologies that make anesthesia more simple, some patients are still more afraid of losing consciousness than they are of the actual procedure. But, Dr. Przybylo states that the pain and trauma experienced during the procedure is probably much better off forgotten by the patient. Listen to Dr. Przybylo talk about the history of anesthesia, and how doctors have learned to use it over time despite having little understanding of how it really works.

Guests:

  • Dr. Henry Jay Przybylo, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at Northwestern University School of Medicine and author of Counting Backwards: A Doctor’s Notes on Anesthesiology

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