Saturday, 6 May 2006

Seven minutes for an anaesthetic

Sunday 6 May 2007

Friday morning, on waking, I had a pain in my stomach. I felt anxious, nervous. I had a chaotic morning, disorganised, trying in vain to make myself concentrate on my work.

At 12:20 I was in the metro to go to my anaesthetist consultation. My appointment was 14:00 but like my appointment with the surgeon, I didn’t want to be late. And I wasn’t hungry. I was too nervous to stop to eat anywhere.

In the RER which was taking me to St Germain en Laye, I once again studied all the documents that I was asked to bring with me. Nevertheless, I had got them ready Wednesday evening, and checked them Thursday evening and that morning. But I needed to reassure myself and calm my agitation.

I had my last prescriptions, the results of my blood tests and questionnaires filled in and signed which were given to me 2 March (patient’s informed consent for surgery, HIV test, medical questionnaire for anaesthesia and patient’s informed consent for anaesthesia).

I had followed Claude’s advice and prepared a short list of questions:
- how exactly is he going to anaesthetise me?
- What is the sedative for which I will be given before the anaesthetic?
- How long will I be asleep?
- Will I be in pain when I wake up?

I really wanted to cry, there on the RER. There was this fear that interfered with everything and made tears come to my eyes. I felt as though I was going to a job interview. I had the feeling the surgeon and anaesthetist were doing me a favour by operating on me and that they could change their minds, without consulting me. Having the impression of depending on them and their good will totally troubled me. I felt powerless and I wanted to cry. For myself.

Finally I arrived, an hour early. Unable to stay there with nothing to do, I forced myself to have some lunch while waiting.

At 14:00 sharp I went into the waiting room, my legs a little numb. It was there that I had my consultation with Dr. Foldès. The anaesthetists’ medical secretary had given me a leaflet explaining the different types of anaesthetic, the precautions to take, the statistics of anything going wrong. I had only read half when the anaesthetist called me.

I spent exactly 7 minutes with Dr Ice-cube. 7 minutes opposite an iceberg who started by taking my blood pressure in a heavy silence. Then he asked me some questions with an uncommunicative face (what medicines do I take? Do I have any allergies? Have I had previous operations?) He then examined the results of my blood tests, and told me everything was all right. Then he delivered a rambling speech in a rapid voice, explaining to me that I wouldn’t be intubated, but I would have oxygen from a mask, that I would be asleep for approximately an hour and a half.

Completely without a glimmer of sympathy, Dr Cold told me I would have to be fasting from midnight from the evening before the operation. He didn’t tell me but I read in the information leaflet that fasting eliminates the risk of suffocating from untimely vomiting. He also said not to take any aspirin.

He got his breath back and asked me, while filling in the patient consent form for the anaesthetic, if I had any questions.

I asked him what the sedative was for which is given before the anaesthetics. He explained that the sedative helped reduce my nervousness, natural when faced with surgery, and so to help the anaesthesia. I also asked about waking up, I wanted to know if I would feel dopey. He answered no, that I would wake up as if after a night’s sleep. If I take the prescribed medicines, he told me, I will feel no pain. I spoke to him about my patch and he assured me I could keep it when I enter the clinic.

7 minutes went by this way and he took me back to the secretary. I paid 28 euros, 4 euros per minute, for this rather frosty anaesthesia consultation. I was a little irritated. Not because of the price, no, because of Dr Snow’s temperature.

So, all right, kindness, human warmth and sympathy aren’t rights, nobody is obliged to be warm and kind (although for the medical professions it is debatable) but all the same, the coldness of the anaesthetist troubled me, if not annoyed me. And then to have been dispatched in seven minutes, that downright worried me. I reassured myself as well as I can by saying to myself that I must be a commonplace and trivial case, but above all the fact of knowing Dr Foldès will be there and that I am his patient and not that of Dr Iceberg calms my anguish.

Paradoxically, the coolness of the anaesthetist has all the same allowed me to be less dramatic, be practical. In my eyes, that afternoon, my operation lost part of its symbolic extent and became more real.

Leaving the clinic I felt as though I was on holiday, light-hearted. It was fine, hot, and I thought that now, between the operation and myself, there were no more steps to take, no examinations, no questionnaires, nor phone calls to the insurance company.

There are only 12 days left.

[Original in French]

Next post


  1. I came, I read, I am moved. It's good what you say.

    A butterfly kiss for you from the other side of the world.

  2. Dr Icecube? That must be the cousin of Dr Couldntbebothered who I came across once during an infertility assessment ...

    I had to have a radiological examination of my [Fallopian] tubes. So there I was with a bare bottom, my feet in stirrups, in an unfamiliar examination room, in front of an unknown assistant, feeling psychologically comfortable, my modesty in no way offended, and with absolutely no feeling of being a heifer at the vet.

    And in breezed Dr Couldntbebothered, he said "Hello Madam, and what do you do in life?". In a single word and without looking at me; in the same move he sank in the syringe you know where, injected the contrasting fluid, and went out again. I don't believe it took him more than 22 seconds. And I said to myself that fortunately my years of therapy had strengthened my self-respect enough so that I didn't feel completely humiliated by this miserable bastard.

    No, we don't go to the doctor for him to receive you on his knees, to pamper you, or to make you a special case. But when we have to expose ourselves in the most intimate way in front of the medical profession, we expect on their part a modicum of psychological consideration and courtesy.

    We aren't there after all, for an ingrown toenail or a runny nose, but for something which is fundamental to our selves, and which deserves a minimum of humanity!

    I wish you every happiness ... :)

  3. Hello and welcome!

    Nathalie in Sydney, thank you for your kiss from beyond the oceans :)

    Geralda, your experience has also been enlightening?!

    When you carry out a step of this sort, I find it ridiculous that a doctor whom you have in front of you, doesn't notice the difficulty, the fear, and the vulnerability which we present to them.

    The positive point is that I realised what was above all important to me, which was the good outcome of my operation. I wasn't devastated by his distance, his lack of warmth, as would surely have been some months ago. In my case also, I attribute my ability to keep upright, after my crossing the anaesthetist's ice floe, to my therapy which has taught me to know the difference between what another other dismisses and what I am ...

  4. Ah yes, Dr Icecube, I know him well, I've met him in his various forms. Psychology isn't really the order of the day in medical studies.

    That said, the last twice that I've been anaesthetised, the pre-operative consultation wasn't done by the same person who carried out the anaesthetic, and so much the better.

    What you need to say to yourself is, he's the anaesthetist, he's not the one who counts. He's certainly competent and he's only one of Dr Foldes' instruments, and it is he who speaks for you.

    Twenty two years ago, before I gave birth, I had dealings with two super-icecubes, the anaesthetist and the midwife. The anaesthetist at first refused to give me an epidural and as for the midwife, she was a horror.

    On my return home, I wrote a stiff letter to the hospital director and to l'Assistance Publique and had a reply from both. I think these two people knew who I was talking about. Low vengeance perhaps but sometimes it does you good. ;)

    And also, the anaesthesia consultation is a formality, required by law, so they are often like that, a conveyor belt.

  5. Hi Claude
    In effect I've reduced Dr Iceberg to the role of "sleep-maker/waker-up" so as not to think any further about it.

    All the same it's difficult to admit that you are just a number in a long chain, even if it's tiring to give the same information to each one.

    In the end, it's indeed Dr Foldès, my interlocutor, and it's best that way.

  6. Dear papillon, you know, doctors have little training in the ease of their consultations.

    I understand that you expect so much from those in whom you entrust your fate, but they have a different role in the business.

    Think that the doctor who chooses to anaesthetise his patients has taken a very technical direction professionally and dialogue with the patient doesn't enter into his scheme of things. ;o)

    Coolness is a quality for someone who is going to use things on you which will make you lose consciousness. It's not something which should be guided by emotions.

    On the contrary, be reassured by his attitude ;o)

  7. I had never looked at things from that angle, Lili :)

    And in fact you are right, it is safer to be in the hands of someone who is in control of himself (and I think Dr Banquise is in control of himself in all circumstances) than in those of someone who lets himself be carried away. The first undoubtedly makes fewer mistakes than the second ...

    And all the same it's true that aneastheia is separate from the range of medical professions ...

  8. It's been only a few days that I've known about your blog. I'm counting with you the passing days which bring you closer to this new life, this unknown territory. 22:05 10 May, soon 11 May ... Still a few more hours to be nibbled away ... hugs

  9. I too had a very short consultation with my aneasthetist, 5 minutes before the operation itself even .... and everything went well. Certainly he was a great deal nicer than the one you met, but it was hurried!

  10. Good evening Chris, good evening Mathi. Welcome to you both.

    Many thanks for your comments. Mathi, you have definitely reassured me, so it's normal to have such a short consultation.

    Chris, you underline the phenomenon appearing during this last week: jubilation. I try all the same to suppress it a little (don't count your chickens before they are hatched, etc.) but it is unmistakable: I am impatient and more and more overcome. For little, I would believe in the new year.


Forethoughts, afterthoughts, any thoughts. Tell me.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin