July 18, 2018

Mass General Changes What We Know about Anesthesia

1 min read

Written by: Jennifer Michelle  |  Share:

OpenTempo's client, Mass General, is leading the way in anesthesia research. Listen to this NPR podcast interviewing Mass General biomedical researcher, Patrick L. Purdon, PhD, about his new discovery on levels of consciousness.

What Really Happens to a Patient under Anesthesia

Up through the early 1800s, patients undergoing surgery had to be held down to keep them in place, their screams reaching to the other side of the hospital. Emotional trauma was common. Then, along came ether, which ushered in a whole new world of anesthesia and pain-free surgery.

In all that time, however, it was not fully understood what was happening inside the brain of an anesthetized patient. Usually, they had no memory of the surgery - yet, sometimes, someone not only remembered, but was aware of the whole thing. Unable to move, unable to speak, they could nevertheless feel everything, and the surgery was a nightmare.

Patrick L. Purdon, PhD, a researcher at Mass General, has recently discovered why that occurs - and given the world of anesthesiology a way to know when it is happening.

How Consciousness Works

Purdon discovered that consciousness is really all the disparate parts of the brain and body talking to each other at once. Instead of an organized understanding, it is a wonderful chaos. Lack of consciousness, on the other hand, is when those different areas are unable to talk with each other. That is what Purdon discovered occurs under anesthesia.

With neuroimaging techniques, Purdon is able to show when the various parts of the brain are talking to each other, and when they are not. This has far-reaching implications for anesthesiology and surgery, as now it is possible to know, and respond, when a patient is undergoing the terrifying experience of being aware during surgery.

NPR's Radiolab interviewed Purdon, giving the history of anesthesia since the 1800s and explaining the potential impact of Purdon's research.

To listen to the podcast, click here.

Additional Resources:

OpenTempo Anesthesia Scheduling Software