Anesthesia Case #2

authored by Clark J. Albert, M.D. (c) 1997
edited by Michael Gordon, Ph.D. 1998

  • The patient is a 52 year old white male scheduled for excision of a large, painful ganglion cyst of the left wrist. The surgeon has requested sixty minutes of operative time.
  • The preoperative anesthetic evaluation was remarkable for being unremarkable. The patient denied previous surgery and had no family history of anesthetic complication. He has no allergies, takes no medication, has never smoked cigarettes and exercises regularly to maintain his weight between 65 and 70 kg. The patient preferred not to take medication and wondered if this surgery can be done under a "local". The anesthesiologist reviewed the surgeons notes and found that the cyst was thought to be quite extensively infiltrating the subcutaneous tissue joint space.
  • After considering the history, patient's request and planned procedure, the anesthesiologist recommended an intravenous regional technique. The technique was explained to the patient and informed consent was obtained.
  • After positioning the patient supine on the operating room table, the EKG, blood pressure cuff and pulse oximeter were applied and readings recorded. Heart rate 46 bpm, blood pressure 123/62 and pulse oximetry 98%. A 20 gauge IV of lactated ringers was started in the right forearm and a 22 gauge capped angiocath was placed in the left hand.
  • The intravenous block was applied in the usual fashion utilizing a double cuff tourniquet on the left arm. The arm was exsanguinated of blood with elevation and Esmarch wrap. Arterial occlusion was confirmed before 50 cc of 0.5% lidocaine was injected. "Pins and Needles" sensation in the arm was noted within seconds of the injection and full surgical anesthesia was achieved within five minutes.
  • Surgery commenced and within ten minutes of incision, the thought-to-be-complexly infiltrating ganglion was excised. The wound was closed, dressing applied. Total tourniquet time was 23 minutes.
  • Within 30 seconds of the tourniquet release, the patient asked why there was such a bad taste in his mouth.
  • He then demonstrated agitated confusion and complained of roaring in his ears. Within seconds his left arm began to twitch and he was unresponsive.
  • His breathing was irregular and shallow, his heart rate was 100 bpm, pulse oximetry showed 94%. The anesthesiologist reinflated the tourniquet, applied an oxygen mask and ventilating system and reached for the thiopental.
  • Before the thiopental was administered, the twitching stopped. The patient's breathing became more regular. Within the next five minutes, the patient opened his eyes and sluggishly asked, "What happened?".

So, What happened ?