I thought today I’d share a fun story from my new book which will be published shortly. It is called Prayer, Medicine and Miracles, will be free, at least for a while, and is similar to God in the ICU, but also different.
Those were primitive days in some ways and I hasten to say that the method being taught to us more than half a century ago would never be practiced today.
For a general anaesthetic, the patient sat in the dental chair and a small mask was strapped to his face to cover just his nose, thus allowing the dentist access to his mouth. A curved connection allowed the mask to be attached to the tube of the anaesthetic machine, which delivered the anaesthetic gas to the patient. Usually the patient received a small dose of intravenous anaesthetic followed by nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and a vapour similar to ether, via the nasal mask.
On this day, the anaesthetist elected to use a different method. She would fill the patient’s lungs with 100% oxygen, she said, by getting him to breathe it for a full five minutes. Then she would turn off the oxygen and give him pure nitrous oxide and nothing else. The oxygen in his lungs, as it dissolved in the blood passing through, would pull the nitrous oxide deep into the lungs and the patient would rapidly go to sleep.
That was the theory.
Nitrous oxide, however is a very weak anaesthetic. For this reason it is always combined with the modern equivalents of ether and choroform. Only a small, frail individual who goes to sleep easily would be a candidate for the type of anaesthetic our teacher was proposing. True, she had chosen a gentle, soft spoken man, but he was heavily built, with a florrid face that betrayed his drinking habits. Habitual alcohol use makes one resistant to anaesthetics.
All went well as she strapped on the nasal mask and curved connection and attached it to the anaesthetic machine. He sat placidly breathing in 100% oxygen. Then she turned off the oxygen and turned up the nitrous oxide. His eyes glazed over and his lids drooped.
Suddenly, with a roar like a bull he jumped out of the chair. The mask and curved connection detached from the anaesthetic machine and he ran out of the room. Roaring all the way — and looking like an angry rhino with the mask and connection still attached — he tore down the corridor past the line of terrified patients sitting awaiting their turn, a horde of white-coated students, a dentist and a doctor in hot pursuit. The roar echoed nasally through the mask as he bellowed his way out of the building and into the car park. By then the nitrous oxide was losing its effect and as the white coats caught up with him, he became docile once more, peering at us with a puzzled expression while still wearing the little mask and curved connection on his nose.