Tackling weighty issues: World Anaesthesia Day

Safer screening: Dr Nick Maytom and Dr Orysia Sandry demonstrate the new ultrasound technology aiding anaesthesia. Picture: Georgia Matts

Safer screening: Dr Nick Maytom and Dr Orysia Sandry demonstrate the new ultrasound technology aiding anaesthesia. Picture: Georgia Matts

Wollongong Hospital anaesthetists claim a new ultrasound machine will help them better deal with the rising number of obese patients.

The advanced machine – donated by Illawarra Cancer Cancers from the proceeds of the Dry July fundraiser – gives doctors pinpoint accuracy when administering intravenous anaesthetics.

With one in three Australians estimated to be obese – and a growing number morbidly obese – anaesthetist Dr Orysia Sandry said it helped improve safety for larger patients.

‘’The quality of the images is excellent and allows us to do the (nerve) blocks while better avoiding damage to nerve and vessel structures.

‘’Due to the increasing size of our patients it’s vital we have that better image quality with much deeper structures – such as larger arms or legs – so that we can do blocks where we couldn’t before,’’ she said.

‘’The machine also comes with a cardiac probe so a patient’s heart function can be assessed in real time, allowing us to decide on the safest method of anaesthesia.’’

The machine will also benefit Illawarra cancer patients, with nerve blocks increasingly being used to interrupt the pain signals being sent to the brain.

‘’Cancer patients have a lot of ongoing pain issues that surgery cannot help, but that can be relieved with a block,’’ anaesthetist Dr Nick Maytom said. ‘’The ultrasound can also help with the insertion of drips where there are problems with cannula access – it avoids repeated attempts which become quite uncomfortable for patients.

‘’The probe again comes in useful when deciding on the safest anaesthetic and monitoring patients, with cancer patients more likely to have problems with their heart and lungs.’’

Anaesthesia has come a long way since early crude forms of surgical pain relief such as opium and alcohol.

It was 170 years ago – on October 16, 1846 – that modern anaesthesia was born with the first successful demonstration of ether anaesthesia at Massachusetts General Hospital in the US.

On Monday a display was set up in Wollongong Hospital’s foyer, with visitors able to learn more about the work of anaesthetists and play with the latest technology.

Advances in anaesthesia.

Advances in anaesthesia.

This year World Anaesthesia Day focused on the rise in use of regional anaesthesia, or regional block, which numbs only the part of the body being operated on.

‘’There’s an increasing trend of using regional anaesthesia, largely due to ultrasound machines like this,’’ Dr Maytom said.

‘’It leads to a speedier recovery, fewer side effects like nausea and vomiting, and less stress on the body.’’

Dr Maytom said with regional anaesthesia, patients had the choice of being completely awake, lightly sedated or still asleep if it was used in conjunction with a general anaesthetic.

Regional anaesthesia is often used for mothers having caesarean births – they are given epidurals or spinal blocks – for eye surgery and operations on arms and legs.

It’s particularly good for joint operations – like hip and knee replacements – as it allows for people to get up and moving quicker.

However it is not suitable for every patient or procedure.

While a cloth laced with ether was the first method of anaesthesia, most general anaesthetics are administered intravenously or by precise inhalation.

‘’We’re much more advanced with the gases and drugs we use, and are able to very closely monitor the amount of anaesthetic given to improve safety,’’ Dr Maytom said.

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