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Anesthesia

Was Told I Was Wasting Anesthesia Depts Time

02/22/2008

Question:

I was scheduled for surgery to remove hardware which was painful from previous foot surgeries. When I called to ask about anesthesia options, the anesthesiologist asked me why my surgeon wasnt removing the hardware in his office. When I said I didnt know and proceeded to ask questions that concerned me regarding the sedation, he wasnt helpful and finally suggested I not get the hardware removed. Then he said it was obvious I was going to be a difficult patient. I was considering cancelling the surgery. When I arrived for the preop, I was made to feel like I told a `secret` and the staff made me feel very uncomfortable. My question: is this type of questioning from a physician normal? I pray that I never need surgery with anesthesia because I`ll remember this incidnet and the fact is that we do put our lives in their hands! What if he/she has a bad day? Any help in moving on would be appreciated.

Answer:

Your anesthesiologist clearly wasn't comfortable talking to you about your anesthesia options. He may, as you put it, have been having a "bad day", perhaps really busy in the operating room. What you have to keep in mind is that most anesthesiologists don't have a lot of time set aside for speaking to patients on the phone. That type of "customer service" (bedside manner, in older parlance) sometimes falls by the wayside.

And the truth is, many, perhaps most, anesthesiologists would rather do, than talk. In this instance, your anesthesiologist may in fact be rather good at what he does (administer anesthesia). Just not all that good at reassuring an anxious patient.

What is a bit surprising is his suggestion that you not get the hardware removed. I'll bet your surgeon would not have been too happy if you had taken his advice!

Part of the problem I think is that in most circumstances patients don't get to choose their anesthesiologist. It's no wonder then that sometimes there just isn't a good match. However, if you do have a good experience in your local hospital you could actually request that particular anesthesiologist for any future operations you might need. And the wonderful thing about the American system (assuming this is where you're writing from) is that there are usually several alternatives if you're unhappy with the hospital you were at.

Perhaps when we assume that all physicians, and the teams they work with, will see eye to eye with us, and relate to our problems with sympathy and compassion, we expect too much. I think you should try to move on with the expectation you will have a better experience with the next anesthesiologist and the set of hospital staff who help to take care of you.

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Response by:

Gareth S Kantor, MD Gareth S Kantor, MD
Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University