For J. P. Abenstein, M.S.E.E., M.D., it's a familiar sight— patients crying in the prep holding area, experiencing dangerously high blood pressure and sometimes breaking down emotionally. But for those willing to have an honest conversation with their physician anesthesiologist, the drama can be avoided.

“I think the most important question is 'how am I going to be cared for during my procedure, including who will be caring for me and what are their credentials',” explains Dr. Abenstein, president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA). “Also, what can I expect after the procedure, how will my pain be managed, what will my functional capacity be after my procedure, what limits will I have and how long will I not be back to my daily routine.”

Medical, family and social history must be discussed

It's recommended you meet with your physician anesthesiologist to provide details about your health and lifestyle, including whether you have diabetes, lung problems, kidney disease or allergies. Also, inform them of any medications you take, and make them aware of if you or a family member has ever had a bad reaction to anesthesia or pain medication. Tell them if you smoke, snore or are sedentary. If you're scared or nervous, don't be afraid to admit it.

“Patients need to talk with the anesthesia professional who will be responsible for their care and seek answers to their questions or concerns.”

“It's important to remember that patients don't go to sleep when we anesthetize them,” says Abenstein. “This is a drug-induced coma. It's very dangerous. Patients recognize this, and instilling a sense of safety is a key element of a positive experience for an invasive procedure.”

You should know who will be administering your anesthesia. Your team should be led by a physician anesthesiologist who works with your surgeon and other personnel to develop and administer your anesthesia care plan.

Don't stress out

It’s natural to fear surgery and anesthesia, but feeling at ease is key to having a positive outcome. According to Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation President Robert Stoelting , M.D., “ Anesthesia is an incredibly safe experience, allowing patients to undergo necessary surgery.  For an otherwise healthy patient undergoing an elective operation, the risk of dying from anesthesia is less than the risk of being involved in a fatal automobile accident on the way to the hospital for surgery.”

Dr. Stoelting remarks, “A number of factors have contributed to making anesthesia less risky for patients, including the skills of those administering anesthesia, improved drugs with shorter durations of action and fewer side effects and monitoring. In particular, pulse oximetry that continuously monitors the oxygen levels in the patient’s blood, has contributed to safer anesthesia.

Stoelting says drugs administered during anesthesia may depress breathing, kidney function and the heart; however, the anesthesia professional is trained to recognize and treat any adverse drug effects. He adds, “Patients need to talk with the anesthesia professional who will be responsible for their care and seek answers to their questions or concerns.”