Surgical Catastrophes and Anesthesiology

Most anesthesiologists will experience at least one perioperative catastrophe over the course of their careers. These events may have a profound and lasting emotional impact on anesthesiologists and may affect their ability to provide patient care in the aftermath of the incident (see article from guest blogger, Skeptical Scalpel, Complications & Collateral Damage). In an effort to more closely examine the impact of perioperative catastrophes on anesthesiologists, my colleagues and I conducted a survey that was published in Anesthesia & Analgesia. We sent a questionnaire to 1,200 randomly selected members of the American Society of Anesthesiologists who were practicing in the United States. Among the 659 anesthesiologists who completed the survey, 84% had been involved in at least one unanticipated death or serious injury of a perioperative patient during their career. Catastrophic Events Have a Lasting Impact When we asked anesthesiologists to recall their most memorable catastrophic event, more than 70% reported that they experienced guilt and anxiety and reliving the event. Most felt personally responsible for the death or injury, even if they considered the event to be unpreventable. The vast majority (88%) required time to recover emotionally from the catastrophe, and 19% acknowledged having never fully recovered. Another 12% even considered changing careers in the aftermath of the catastrophe. In addition, about two-thirds of the anesthesiologists reported feeling that their ability to care for patients was compromised in the first 4 hours after the event. However, nearly all respondents reported that they carried on with their usual work schedule after the incident occurred. In fact, only 7% were given time off. Our results clearly demonstrate that surgical...