Nova Scotia·Health Hacks

Why it's important to talk to 'the unsung hero' of the OR before surgery

Having a pre-op conversation with the anesthetist can improve a patient's experience during and after surgery.

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton shares her health hacks with CBC's Information Morning

Having a chat with the anesthetist is important for your health both during and after a surgical procedure, says Mary Jane Hampton. (Shutterstock/Bright097)

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

Patients preparing for surgery often direct their questions to the physician doing the operating. But health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton said the surgeon isn't the only doctor patients should be speaking with. 

"Behind every great surgeon is an equally great, if not greater, anesthetist," Hampton told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

Hampton said the anesthetist plays a vital role in ensuring a surgery is tolerable during and after the procedure. Early communication helps ensure a patient has the best experience possible. 

Health consultant Mary Jane Hampton suggests an app can help patients keep track of essential health information (Robert Short/CBC)

"Think of the anesthetist as the pain management specialist. That's really what they are. They're not just the ones that put you to sleep. They're the ones that keep you comfortable, so that's a really good relationship to have."

Choosing the right type of anesthetic

One question patients can ask is about the type of anesthesia. People may think of general anesthetic as an inevitable part of surgery, but there are other options. 

"There are things called local anesthetics as well, which is just the part of the body that is being performed on [being] frozen."

"There are also things like conscious sedation, which is a kind of sedative where you're not completely knocked out. You might actually fall asleep during the procedure, but it's not a general anesthetic."

Hampton said there are risks and benefits to every option. Those who are unsure could consider asking their physician what he or she would do in their position.

"Sometimes it throws physicians off their game to ask them that, but it's a reasonable question to ask," she said.

Hearing aids and capped teeth

There are also certain things patients should tell their anesthetist before surgery. 

"If you've had an anesthetic before and it made you really, really, pukey sick — it's important to tell them that." 

If the anesthetist knows a patient is predisposed to nausea, they can adjust the drugs to mitigate that consequence, said Hampton. 

Patients with devices such as small hearing aids that could have been missed during a physical exam should point those out. 

"Those hearing aids can actually get damaged during surgery depending on what kind of procedure you're having," she said.

Hampton said patients should also tell their anesthetist about capped or loose teeth, as these can be broken during intubation if the physician is not careful. 

Post-surgical pain

The relationship doesn't stop when the surgery is over, said Hampton.

"If there is pain management that you should be planning for after the fact, talk to the anesthetist about that before the operation."

Talking to the anesthetist about post-surgical pain relief options like an epidural or nerve blocks can help reduce delays in getting relief. 

"So [they're] a key part of the surgical team," said Hampton. "But not the one we often think about."

To reach Mary Jane Hampton with your ideas for health hacks, email mj@healthhacks.ca

With files from CBC's Information Morning

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.