Ask A Magnet Nurse: Knowing The Facts About Anesthesia

Becky Nowicki, RN

SMART LIVING: Several hospital procedures require some kind of anesthesia. When is it needed and what does it do?

BECKY NOWICKI: First of all, you need to know that there are different kinds of anesthesia. Local and regional anesthesia involves blocking nerve impulses. In local anesthesia, only a small area of the body is numbed and the patient does not feel pain there. When a larger area is being operated on, regional anesthesia is used. For example, the insertion of a graft into an arm is a surgical procedure in which the entire arm is numbed. For procedures such as a colonoscopy, a patient may just receive moderate sedation. This can often make the patient drowsy to the point of falling asleep. But general anesthesia is probably what most people think of when they think of receiving anesthesia.

SL: What does general anesthesia involve?

BN: With general anesthesia, a patient is given intravenous drugs and paralyzing agents and is rendered unconscious, or “put to sleep.” Open heart and joint replacement surgery are two examples of when general anesthesia may be used. The after-effects may include grogginess, sore throat, and nausea.

SL: What concerns do patients often have about anesthesia?

BN: Well, anesthesia does involve needles and most people are not fond of being stuck with sharp objects! But the most common fear for patients is that after being put to sleep they may not wake up again, or that they might experience “anesthesia awareness”—being able to feel what is being done to them during surgery but unable to communicate it. While these fears are certainly valid, great technological advances have made anesthesia less risky. Monitors enable the provider to keep very close tabs on the patient’s status throughout the procedure. We can gauge how much brain activity is taking place during a procedure so that anesthesia awareness can be detected and avoided. All things considered, the benefits of anesthesia outweigh the risks.

SL: Does the patient have a chance to discuss these concerns with you?

BN: Yes, a patient will have an opportunity to meet the anesthesiologist and the anesthetist that will be caring for him or her. He or she should feel free to ask questions. The anesthesia department is here to serve the patient. The goal is for the patient to have excellent service and a positive surgical experience.  
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