At a family party last summer I struck up a conversation with my nephew’s wife, Linda, about her job as an anesthesiologist for a local hospital.  I knew they paid her well but was curious as to whether she liked her work. Linda told me that not only does she enjoy her work; she takes great pride in finding what she termed “the right anesthesia management solution” for each patient. Good health has allowed me to avoid any medical issues over the years. I have little knowledge on this subject, other than the shot of Novocain the dentist gives. So Linda gave me a quick lesson right then and there about the three different types of anesthesia – local, regional, and general.

Local anesthesia stops the pain in a particular area of the body. The patient stays conscious throughout the entire procedure. Doctors and anesthesiologists mostly use a local anesthetic for minor surgery. It gets injected or rubbed right onto the site. Dentists use both types on patients. They rub a topical anesthetic on an injection site before inserting the needle.

Regional anesthesia numbs the section of the body that will undergo surgery. Often, to ease the pain, a local anesthetic gets administered before the insertion of the regional anesthesia tube or catheter. Spinal and epidural both fall under the category of regional anesthesia. 

For rectal, pelvic, lower extremity, or lower abdominal surgery Doctors ask for a spinal anesthetic. A spinal anesthetic involves injecting the area of the back near the bottom of the spinal cord. The spinal anesthetic numbs the lower body and usually gets prescribed in orthopedic procedures involving the lower extremities.

Similar to the spinal anesthetic, doctors use the epidural anesthetic for surgery on lower limbs, and during childbirth.  Epidural anesthesia involves continually infusing the painkiller through a catheter. Also inserted into the lower back, the epidural works much the same as the spinal procedure. Epidural anesthesia may also be injected higher in the back for chest or abdominal surgery. 

General anesthesia renders the patient unconsciousness during surgery.  Patients receive general anesthesia either intravenously or inhale it through a breathing mask and tube.  When giving anesthesia through a mask, operating room personnel will insert a breathing tube into the patient’s windpipe to maintain proper breathing during surgery.

She went on to say that her anesthesia management responsibilities also included monitoring the patient’s life functions during surgery.  She’s in charge of keeping an eye on blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing during surgery. Also, during surgery, the anesthesiologist must diagnose and treat any medical problems that arise.

So after all that, I told her how impressed I was, and that no one in my family had achieved such a lofty position in life. To which she warmly replied, “yes they have because I’m in your family.”