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Harvard Medical professor likens anesthesia to a reversible coma

| Mar 1, 2011 | Anesthesia & Medication Errors

A professor of anesthesiology at Harvard Medical School recently spoke with the New York Times about the history and use of anesthesia in American hospitals. The professor said that anesthetics are potent drugs that allow for pain free surgery by putting patients in a “reversible coma.”

There is little room for error when anesthetics are used on a patient. If the drugs are applied improperly then a patient may suffer dangerous or life-threatening reactions such as paralysis, overdose, and lack of oxygen. Anesthetics negligently given during childbirth can also cause injury or death to a newborn.

It is important for patients injured by anesthetic administration to consult with an experienced attorney to determine whether a doctor or anesthesiologist was negligent in administering the anesthesia or in monitoring the patient after administering anesthesia.

Anesthesia was first demonstrated at the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846. The use of anesthesia derived from the recreational use of ether, called “ether follies,” in which teenagers would gather and sniff ether to become intoxicated.

The Harvard professor told The New York Times that anesthesia became popularized when someone fell and hit himself at an ether session and did not feel any pain. The story of the fall spread and a Boston dentist began using ether for painless oral surgery.

The practice eventually spread to other procedures such as tumor removal. Ether is still a major component in inhaled anesthetics, the professor said.

The Times also asked the professor to speculate as to why pop singer Michael Jackson took the anesthetic Propofol for insomnia. Propofol was one of the substances found in Jackson’s body after his death and is believed to have contributed to his death. The professor said that the singer’s use of Propofol might have been related to a practice of telling patient that an anesthetic will “put them to sleep,” which the professor said is inaccurate.

“The bottom line is that when you’re undergoing anesthesia, you’re in a state akin to a coma,” the professor said.

Source: The New York Times, “Call It a Reversible Coma, Not Sleep,” Claudia Dreifus, 2/28/11


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