Category Archives: News

Being Essential in the Post-Normal Era

Traffic is non-existent. Schools are closed. Restaurants are only offering take-out and delivery. Parking lots at strip malls are empty on weekends. Only a limited number of people at a time are allowed inside the grocery store. 

Welcome to the post-normal era since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the scene in Northern California. 

One day we will look back at this time and realize how much it changed everything. Simple things like a handshake or sitting together with a colleague during a lunch break will hopefully never be taken for granted again 

The California Governor has issued a statewide order to shelter in place. It’s only natural that the husband and father parts of me consider staying home like everyone else. 

But I’m not like everyone else, and none of us in healthcare are. We are considered “essential,” which is why we continue to go to work day-and-night while the rest of our society shelters in place in a monumental effort to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19. 

I have always liked this blog by Dr. Kathy Hughes about working at hospitals around the holidays and being essential. Hospitals at that time of the year are actually festive places. It’s different now. There are no holiday potlucks in the ward lounges to bring people together. There is no celebrating. Yet, we all understand that we are needed and share the burden of being essential together. 

Our work as anesthesiologists has changed. We no longer perform elective surgeries in our operating rooms. The weight of our role as specialized physicians has shifted from perioperative and pain medicine to emergency response, critical care, and crisis management. We are at particularly high risk since COVID-19 is a respiratory disease. Every time we are called to perform tracheal intubation in an infected or suspected patient who is coughing and having trouble breathing, we are staring down the barrel of a gun. 

Protecting ourselves is a priority because our expertise is a limited resource. If we get sick, we can’t help others, and we risk spreading COVID-19 to our families. Personal protective equipment or PPE is a necessity, and multiple layers are required by anesthesiologists and other airway management personnel given the high risk procedures we do in these patients. It takes time to put on PPE, but there can be no shortcuts when it comes to safety. SLOW IS SAFE, and we need to remember that there are no more emergency intubations in this post-normal era.

Being essential in the hospital is not limited to just the healthcare professionals of course. The engineers, the technicians, the housekeepers, the cafeteria and food service workers–they are the unsung heroes of the hospital during this pandemic. Without them, our facilities and our healthcare workers would cease to function. Whenever I see them, I thank them for the work they are doing to support us on the front lines of patient care. We share stories of how things used to be and give each other some encouraging words. 

It is surreal to get up, get ready for work, have a cup of coffee as part of my normal morning routine, drive through deserted streets, and walk into the hospital not knowing what the day will bring. We have a job to do, and that calling to help humanity drives us to keep coming to work. We chose medicine, but medicine chose us too.

This blog has also been featured on KevinMD.

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My Trip to Washington: Speaking Out Against Drug Shortages

From left to right: Daniel Teich (Fairview Pharmacy Services), Dr. Peter Adamson (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), Senator Susan Collins, me, and Brian Marden (MaineHealth Pharmacy)

On November 5, 2019, I had the opportunity to participate in a Congressional briefing related to drug shortages at the Capitol in Washington, DC. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) opened the session and co-sponsored the MEDS Act with Senator Tina Smith (D-MN). I was one of only two physicians on the panel and tried to represent the voice of clinicians involved in perioperative care and the patients we care for. Below are the notes from my presentation.

As a physician specializing in anesthesiology, this ongoing crisis of drug shortages in the United States is frankly terrifying.

Anesthesiology is a unique specialty within medicine. Our patients are the most vulnerable in the hospital. Patients under general anesthesia cannot advocate for themselves and trust us with their lives.

We do not know what the next drug shortage will be or how long it will last. This week it is prefilled syringes of lidocaine, a life-saving emergency medication we give in case of a dangerous heart rhythm. Two weeks ago it was phenylephrine, a routine medication we use to increase blood pressure when it goes down after inducing anesthesia.

Last year, we had complete shortages of common injectable opioids and local anesthetics used for numbing injections. This directly affected surgical patients in terms of anesthesia and pain management. For 3 months in 2018, we did not have the local anesthetic indicated for spinal anesthesia. We know this is the safest anesthetic for patients having certain surgeries. During this shortage, we used an alternative anesthetic in order to continue providing spinal anesthesia, but our patients experienced more side effects. The reasons for this shortage were complex and involved a limited number of manufacturers and quality issues.

Thankfully, the shortage of spinal local anesthetic ended. We do not know when or if the rest of our current drug shortages will end. All we know for sure is that there will be another one.

The predictably unpredictable cycle of drug shortages puts physicians in an impossible position. Medicine is a calling, and we physicians have sworn an oath to support the well-being of our community and humanity in general.

Not having access to the right drugs at the right time for every patient and being forced to use less acceptable alternatives, if any exist at all, represents a form of moral injury. Moral injury “is being unable to provide high-quality care and healing in the context of health care” and is now recognized as a contributor to the epidemic of physician burnout.

Listen to my interview with Paul Costello on SoundCloud.

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New VA Palo Alto Anesthesiology Website

 

We recently launched the first website for the Anesthesiology and Perioperative Care Service at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.  As our patient population gets more connected with instant access to information via the incimg0057ternet, it is more important than ever for us to reach out to them.  We know that going through the surgical process is a stressful experience for patients and families.  Through this website, we hope that our Veteran patients will be able to learn more about the cutting-edge anesthesia and pain management services we have to offer them.  We also want our prospective staff, trainees, and colleagues to see the great things we’re doing at the VA Palo Alto these days.  Please visit us at online!

 

 

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Welcome

va_flagsWelcome to EdMariano.com! 

I am an anesthesiologist at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System (VAPAHCS) in Palo Alto, California.  My specialty is regional anesthesia which involves performing a variety of specific nerve block techniques to numb areas of the body for pain control.  Our research has shown that nerve blocks provide patients with the best possible form of pain management after surgery.  At the VAPAHCS, we even use nerve blocks as the primary anesthetic for outpatient surgeries so patients can wake up faster, pain-free, and without the nausea and other side effects associated with general anesthesia.

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