Try to imagine today's health care without surgery. It's almost impossible. Now try to imagine surgery without anesthesia. Equally impossible. Without anesthesia, many of modern medicine's greatest benefits simply would not exist.
More than 25 million surgical procedures are performed each year in the United States alone. Clearly, the health and well being of almost everyone you know has been touched by the science of anesthesiology.
These and many other surgical procedures now considered routine are carried out in hospitals and outpatient settings by the thousands every day. You usually take them for granted-and you should; current safety figures are impressive. So much so, you may lose sight of how long a way physicians have come in only the last 100 years, and even in the last five years when more lengthy and complex operations than ever before have been made possible by recent advances in anesthesiology.
Today's anesthesiologists now practice one of the most complex disciplines of medical specialization. These doctors command a vast amount of medical knowledge about the human body, about drugs and how they act upon the body, and about the sophisticated technology used to track every major organ system during surgery and to administer drugs in a variety of ways.
During a major operation, anesthesiologists choose from a variety of drugs to fulfill many different functions such as stopping pain, making the patient unconscious, and relaxing the body's muscles. To do this, they may administer inhalational anesthetic agents, sedatives, muscle relaxants and many other drugs that act to help maintain normal body functions. The anesthesiologist must skillfully orchestrate all of these drugs in accordance with the individual medical and surgical needs of each patient.
At the same time, anesthesiologists have improved techniques for turning off a patient's response to pain in specific regions of the body; this means that patients may remain conscious and recover more quickly after certain surgical procedures.
Only 40 years ago, administering ether through a mask and monitoring the patient with a simple stethoscope was considered to be the state of the art. Today, ether is not used for anesthesia and very sophisticated monitors are standard procedure. Currently, drugs designed molecule by molecule on computer screens for more effective applications within the human brain are in use in today's operating rooms. Dramatic advances in technology continue to create monitoring devices with even more subtle and accurate measuring capabilities. National and international anesthesiology conferences are regularly convened to transmit the explosion of research, new information and new applications for patient care.
The future of medicine-surgery in particular-will continue to benefit from new advances in anesthesiology. All of this progress will allow anesthesiologists to better perform their most crucial and basic task: safely caring for the health, comfort and quality of life of all their patients.