Anesthesiology Etiquette

I’m recovering from surgery to repair a torn ligament in my thumb, sustained while building horse pasture fencing. One-handed word processing is not my forte, so this will be a much shorter blog post than the usual.

I am a veteran of surgical procedures (a wee bit accident-prone I am), and as a veterinarian, I know all too well the kinds of things that can go wrong with general anesthesia. Therefore, I’m always somewhat on edge during the three minute or so encounter I’m allowed with the anesthesiologist moments before he or she takes my life into their hands.

Imagine my reaction when the anesthesiologist assigned to my thumb surgery came waltzing into the room and cheerfully announced, “Hello. I’m Dr. Smith and I am the one who will be putting you to sleep today.” My husband, also a veterinarian, and I exchanged amused glances, and then began giggling. We tactfully explained to Dr. Smith why his choice of words affected us as they did. Truthfully, I think his statement would be off-putting to any animal lover, not just veterinarians. Wouldn’t you agree? Dr. Smith blushed profusely and apologized, stating that he wished he’d known my profession before coming into the room. He did do a bang up job with my anesthesia- I woke up comfy and nausea-free. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

This story reminds me of another one of my pre-op chats with an anesthesiologist a few years back. He asked what I did for a living. After hearing my response, he said, “That’s so cool! That’s what I always wanted to do, but I couldn’t get into vet school.” Not the reassurance I was looking for!

Have you ever had this kind of “interesting” conversation with an anesthesiologist?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Be Sociable, Share!

9 Comments on “Anesthesiology Etiquette

  1. Only one bad experience: I explained to the man that he will find it very difficult to place the needle in the inside oif my elbow AND in my hand. However, the top of my lower arm would be fast and easy. He wanted to know which medical school I went to. I replied that my medical training is irrelevant, however his IS, and that I KNOW my body better than he.
    Having ignored me and in a snit, he tried not less than SIX times to find the vein without success. When he was told by the surgeon to “listen to the lady”, the needle went in straight and true without trouble. For days I felt like an aching pincushion.

    Since then, I discuss the situation beforehand and had not had trouble with any other doctor.

    Some of them just won’t LISTEN!

  2. Hi Dr Nancy,

    I hope you will have your opposable thumb back in action very soon.

    A few years ago I showed up for day surgery and was ushered promptly into the operating room where my anesthesiologist introduced himself as the father of a student to whom I had recently given a failing grade in a course ( or rather, who had recently earned an F in my course). That was a terrifying moment for me before I went under.

  3. I had a great interaction with my anethesiologist for my outpatient surgery a couple years back. After asking me a long list of questions, she put her hand on my shoulder and said, “We’re not going to have any excitement today. Everything will be fine.” Just what I wanted to hear and everything was.

  4. I recall one minor surgery I had a number of years ago. The anesthesiologist who was going to work on me was observant enough to notice that I was NOT nervous about the surgery. He suggested no pre-surgery sedative and I went into the operating room wide-awake. The fewer drugs the better for me! The same hospital asked me if I wanted anything to help me sleep the night after the surgery. I asked for aspirin only and that’s what they gave me. Sure I was awake most of the night – having slept most of the day, but I had expected it and wanted my body to get back on track by itself. I like it when the people taking care of me listen to me!

    So sorry about your thumb, Nancy!

  5. The great thing about Versed is that you-the patient-won’t remember anything you said or heard once under its influence. They could tell you ANYTHING and you wouldn’t be able to write it in a blog comment later.
    I have heard the “put to sleep” expression from my oral surgeon’s staff-but so far they’ve always woken me up.

  6. I had a couple of surgeries a few years back and I met with the anesthesiologist the day before to talk about the process. I told him I was allergic to Versed and that I didn’t want Ketamine.

    He turned quickly and asked if I was a drug user. I laughed and said no but studies show that Ketamine can cause several unwanted side effects for extended periods of time.

    He waved me off once I started citing studies, he knew I was right. The day of my surgery he was pacing back and forth muttering “No versed, no ketamine, this is really cramping my style”.

    “Professionally or personally?” I asked from my pre op bed with my little cap on. The whole surgical team cracked up.

    10 days later I was in for a second surgery with a different anesthesiologist but same surgical team. He was questioning my preferences but the team jumped in and explained it for me. That was nice.

    Good luck on your recovery Dr. Kay!

  7. Now THAT is funny! Thanks for the smiles. Hope you’re feeling good again and mending well. Ouch.

  8. I love animals, and seriously considered vet school, but did not think I could euthanize an animal. As an emergency physician, I have given a lot of anesthesia, local, and regional, as well as conscious sedation. Hopefully, I haven’t told anyone I was going to” put them to sleep”.

  9. Wow, thumb ligament injuries are very popular these days. At least you didn’t get it by doing something “dumb” like sliding into first base like Josh Hamilton of the Anaheim Angels. Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia played all last season with a similar injury. I hope your thumb heals completely and that you are not on the DL for long.

    In my two encounters I was in so much pain (appendectomy, gall bladder) they could have said pretty much whatever they wanted. However, I did find being asked multiple times if I was pregnant very annoying. I get once, but it seemed like everybody I encountered asked that question. I think a urine test could have cleared that up very easily and definitively.