A few years ago I had the pleasure of anesthetizing a religious leader, the local bishop.
The day of surgery, I went to his room, introduced myself, made my clinical assessment, and explained the procedure. This middle-aged and obviously cultured man questioned me extensively, in order to calm his (and his family’s) anxiety. He “confessed” to me that his greatest fear was of anesthesia. When I said goodbye and left the room, I had the sense that he had gained great trust in me.
We met again in the operating room, where his long and complex surgery was uneventful. Two days later, I went to his room for a follow up visit, although I normally don’t have time to do this. I said “hello” and, after he told me how happy he was about his surgical outcome, he said “…and you, son, who are you?”
I was both surprised and frustrated to not be recognized as his anesthesiologist. A few months ago, it was I who was having surgery—a minor procedure in a different hospital.
I remembered the admission staff who attended me, the surgeon who advised me and performed the surgery, and the discharge process. But, I did not remember the vague and blurry perioperative period. I did not remember the anesthesiologist and his kind words to a colleague.
Let me start by telling you of my gratitude and consideration, because I am well aware of your work. At the same time, I can’t help reproaching myself for not remembering your name, or at least your face.
It is possible that the work we do inevitably makes us invisible? How can we be remembered and associated with well-being and safety so that our patients might better recognize and value us? Or is it naive to expect unconsciousness and amnesia in a patient, yet still want to evoke a memory and achieve recognition? Isn’t amnesia the best of our professional calling cards?
Perhaps we should put even more effort into giving quality information before the intervention, so the patient knows that a professional anesthesiologist will be taking care of their most precious gift. I hope, in the meantime, under similar circumstances, when someone says “hello” to me after a surgery and asks how I am, I will not again respond “…and you, son, who are you?” because I will know that I am with my anesthesiologist.