Chapter Twenty-Three: Presentations, Unique Anesthesia

Chapter 23 Sub-sections

My formal speaking career began when I briefly presented at our annual anesthesia meeting in Boston in 1972, on our early hyperkalemic studies (Gronert, Theye, 1972). My first comprehensive presentation was a refresher course on neuroanesthesia in San Francisco in 1973, at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. I was so concerned about an adequate performance that, on our drive to California from Minnesota, I rehearsed the talk every evening in our motel room with my wife Pat as audience, and even described sounds of air embolism while playing an audio tape. After that trip, Pat said that she would never again listen to me give a talk, formally or informally, and she never has.

Followed were invitations to a series of regional refresher courses around the country during the next few years, topics being neuroanesthesia, sitting position and air embolism, succinylcholine-induced hyperkalemia, other issues relating to muscle relaxants and muscle disorders, and various facets of malignant hyperthermia. Professional travel elsewhere included Canada, England, Ireland, Belgium, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, and Japan.

Presidential Anesthesia

My family and I visited Walter Reed Army Hospital in Bethesda Maryland in summer 1974. We'd begun this eastern trip with anesthesia refresher course lectures at the Great Gorge Playboy Club in New Jersey, now defunct. Walter Reed was next --- I lectured and taught in the operating rooms. By chance, this was during the several days leading to Nixon's resignation. We visited the Senate floor on the day prior, and saw Dan Rather on the sidewalk outside the White House. We saw Nixon's resignation at the home of an anesthesia friend, Dutch Lichtmann.

At Walter Reed, one of the army personnel told me of surgery for President Eisenhower in the 1950s. He was given intravenous thiopental in his hospital room for quick easy sedation to calm him during the transfer to the operating suite. But he developed laryngospasm. Ike was unconscious, unable to move air into his lungs, and began to get cyanotic. Unfortunately a reservoir bag, mask, and oxygen were not available. As I was told, it was quite a sight to see a blue President Eisenhower being wheeled down the corridor at a dead run to the operating suite for ventilation with oxygen via bag and mask.

On another occasion, LBJ had surgery in Washington with a team composed essentially of Mayo personnel. The late Paul Didier had provided anesthesia, and vividly described it all to us when he returned to Rochester. The operation went fine, but, in the immediate postoperative period, he incurred LBJ's wrath when he attempted to re-start an intravenous line. The nurse in LBJ's room had been with the family for decades, as the Johnson family felt more comfortable with her there. Paul had injected local anesthetic into LBJ's forearm to prevent the pain of insertion of a larger needle. As he began to insert the IV needle, the nurse was fussing with the bed, and pushed the button to elevate it. LBJ's arm rose as Paul began the insertion, and the needle went into soft tissue instead of the vein. LBJ was not one to tolerate even minor irritants and colorfully banished Paul from his presence. Later, the entire Mayo team received White House letters of appreciation. Paul's envelope contained a blank sheet of White House stationery.