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.
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
Synesthesia is a condition involving cross wiring in the brain that allow senses to overlap. Dr. Joel Salinas describes his experience with his mirror touch synesthesia. His sight translates into his touch, and he is able to feel the pain from his patients. “If you are gasping for air, I feel it in my body. If you are having a panic attack, I feel it in my body,” says Dr. Salinas, neurologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and author of Mirror Touch: Notes From a Doctor Who Can Feel Your Pain. “The vision part of our brain and the touch part of our brain will both activate when we see other people either moving, or being touched, or in pain. And this happens without us knowing.” While most people may cringe or wince at the sight of a car accident or painful fall, Dr. Salinas says he feels the pain of anyone he sees, including his patients. He shares a story about a patient who was unable to be restrained by her nurses. He came to help, and immediately felt a crushing pain in his chest. When Dr. Salinas realized that this patient was having trouble breathing, he ordered for a specific test to be done which found that she had serious blood clots. While this gift allows him to help his patients in significant, unusual ways, it also may cause him stress, discomfort, and serious pain. The first time he saw a patient die, Dr. Salinas underwent the feeling of death, which he describes as a long-running air conditioner that has gone silent. He had to will himself to breathe again, and has since used small tactics to “ground” himself such as focusing on the feeling of his toes.
Dr. Salinas says he had has mirror-touch synesthesia for as long as he can remember, and that he experiences letter-color synesthesia as well. When he visualizes certain words, each letter will have a distinct color that contributes to its meaning. Dr. Salinas also shares that roughly 4% of all people have some form of synesthesia, and most go on to hold careers in the arts, where their thoughts and feelings are translated into their work. Many well-known musicians are synesthetes, including Billy Joel, Kanye West, and Lorde. It is even suspected that artist Vincent Van Gogh had synesthesia, from how he described his artwork to others.
Since the introduction of antibiotics in World War II, doctors have prescribed courses of treatment that typically ran longer than necessary. Bacterial resistance is forcing a reevaluation, shortening courses sometimes to just a few days and even prompting doctors to advise not using all pills if patients feel better.
Doctors have often been advised to avoid emotions regarding patients in order to keep their decisions objective. However, this has led many patients to believe doctors don’t care about them. A new movement in medicine seeks to reverse the trend and put compassion back in medicine, led by a “Healer’s Art” class in many medical schools. Experts who teach the class explain.
Many patients want certainty in diagnoses, especially when they’ve had expensive diagnostic tests. However, those tests are often less certain in their results than people think, making patients sometimes doubt doctors’ competence.
When doctors can take advantage of massive amounts of data on patient outcomes, lives will be saved. We look at one of the first efforts, an attempt to associate dangerous drug interactions, and the difficulty in convincing other doctors that “crunching numbers” can provide adequate proof. A researcher and reporter involved in the case explain.
Synopsis: Patients often keep lifestyle secrets from their physicians even though it may be harmful to their health. Experts discuss the most common reasons for secret-keeping and the consequences that may result.
Host: Nancy Benson. Guests: Dr. Daphne Miller, family physician, San Francisco; Karen Giblin, President, Red Hot Mamas menopause management program