1. Do I have a choice of anesthesia?
Often there is a choice, but not always. Any surgery inside your chest or abdomen requires general anesthesia, in which you’re unconscious and unresponsive to pain. Surgery on your extremities may be performed with regional anesthesia, in which the operative part of your body is numb.
2. What anesthesia complications might I have?
You can discuss your risk of nausea and vomiting – which occurs in up to 30% of people after general anesthesia – and what treatments are available. You might ask about the chance of having a sore throat or more worrisome complications such as postoperative memory loss, breathing problems, or allergic reactions to the anesthesia drugs.
The American College of Surgeons has an online survey that identifies your anesthesia and surgery risk based on your procedure, age, medical problems, and height and weight. Enter the procedure on the questionnaire in medical terms (gallbladder removal is called a cholecystectomy, for example, so ask your surgeon for the correct terminology). Once you’ve entered the information, you’ll see your risk of thirteen complications ranging from minor to major.
3. How will my pain be managed during and after surgery?
Is pain going to be managed with intravenous narcotics? Is there a nerve block that can help with pain relief? How about non-narcotic medications such as Tylenol or Motrin?
Narcotic pain relievers are needed after most surgeries, but they come with the risk of addiction if they’re used longer than needed. Most physicians will recommend you transition to non-narcotic pain relievers as soon as possible.
4. Who’s taking care of me?
The anesthesia provider you meet may be part of a team caring for you. Is this person an anesthesiologist or a nurse anesthetist (CRNA)? Is this a teaching hospital, in which either physicians or nurses are learning the art of anesthesia under the supervision of an anesthesiologist?
Texas law requires CRNAs to be supervised by an anesthesiologist. This is not the case in all states. If you want only a physician anesthesiologist caring for you, let your surgeon know in advance.
5. What anesthetic would you give your mom for this type of surgery?
If you want to bypass the discussion about types of anesthesia, this is the question to ask. You’ll quickly discover what your anesthesiologist thinks is safest and offers the smoothest recovery. After all, every anesthesiologist knows, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”