Knowledge of anaesthesia, even among doctors, is poor, experts said

When six-year-old Meera took the mike and announced her name, the audience was prepared to indulge her. “I am studying in class I,” she began unaware of the smiles around her. Her doctor prompted her to narrate her experience. “They wheeled me into the operation theatre and put a mask on my face. Then I fell asleep,” she said. Meera was recalling an experience that everyone who has had a surgery would identify with.

On Sunday, the Institute of Anaesthesiology and Critical Care at Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, attached to Madras Medical College, celebrated its foundation day along with World Anaesthesia Day, which falls on October 16. Meera had undergone a procedure for tonsillitis during her summer holidays, her doctor parents later told me.

The first time anaesthesia was known to the world was on October 16, 1846, when W.T.G. Morton administered ether to his patient to remove a tumour in the jaw. Since then anaesthesia as a speciality has developed and helped surgery become a painless procedure, but knowledge of the speciality even among doctors is poor, says K. Vasanthi, head of the Institute.

She regaled the audience with her experiences. Some of them provided interesting insights into the rare speciality subject, while others showed the lack of understanding in patients about a specialist’s job. “I was preparing to insert the IV line for anaesthesia in a boy when I casually asked him if he had eaten in the morning. He said he ate parottas at 6 a.m.” She immediately rushed to the boy’s mother and asked her if she had given the boy anything to eat. The mother said she had not. “I came back to the boy and told him he must have had a dream for his mother had denied giving him anything to eat. The boy said: ‘Who said my mother gave me food? My grandmother fed me.’ Had I begun the IV line, the boy might have died on the operation table,” she said.

It was however the speech made by the director of medical education, C. Vamsadhara, that left an indelible impression. Some years ago, when she had to undergo a surgery, she did not exercise her right to choose an anaesthetist and ever since she has regretted it. “I didn’t know what caused the pain until much later after the surgery. Today I live with a scar.”

She could have avoided the pain and the scar had she spoken up either before or after the surgery. “I don’t know who or what caused it. Was it my silence, my ability to bear the pain, the doctor or the nurse…” she said.

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