OCTOBER 14-18, 2006

Christmas came early for me this year. My dear mother offered to send me to the ASA Annual Meeting in Chicago as my gift. I almost didn’t go, but am now very thankful that the trip was taken because of the many opportunities I was given to speak with some of the people in the medical and anesthesia worlds who can, and I believe will, make a difference! So consider my part of this letter your Christmas report from Carol Weihrer and her mother, Anna Lea.

I traveled alone to this meeting – no small feat. My plane was late arriving, so I did not get to attend a pre-meeting seminar I wanted to hear or the seminar on grass-roots advocacy. Upon arriving in Chicago Friday evening, October 13, 2006, I dropped my things in my hotel and went immediately to the convention center, McCormick Place, to register for the conference, which began in earnest early the next morning. The meeting had ???? (15,000 is what I heard) attendees from the US and around the world.

Saturday morning, I attended a panel session on "What Happens When My Inured Patient Contacts a Lawyer?" The panel was moderated by Karen B. Domino, M.D., M.P.H., Chair of the ASA Committee on Professional Liability and Professor of Anesthesiology at the University of Washington in Seattle.  Panelists included:  Insurance Company Attorney or Risk Manager:  Brian Thomas from the Preferred Physicians Medical Group in Shawnee Mission, Kansas;  Plaintiff's Attorney William E. Partridge, Esq., of Grossman, Roth, and Partridge of Sarasota, Florida; Plaintiff Expert Brian K. Ross, M.D., Professor of Anesthesiology at the University of Washington in Seattle; and Defense Expert Robert A. Caplan, M.D., Clinical Professor of Anesthesiology at the University of Washington in Seattle.  This two-hour session began with statements from each of the panel participants, questions offered by the moderator, Dr. Karen Domino from the University of Washington (state), and then questions from the audience. I did make some comments during this Q/A time.

Saturday also included a pre-arranged meeting with a Vice President of JCAHO. Despite most unfortunate confusion about where we were to meet, we did spend the allotted hour on the phone, and I will mail the packet I took for him with victim answers to the question "What Would You Like to Tell JCAHO?." A very lively, frank, and informative exchange of ideas provided a free exchange and a good sense of what each of us can do to prevent and treat anesthesia awareness. I thank this official for his time and wisdom.

Saturday night I was taken to a wonderful meal at a steak house with my anesthesiologist member of the A/A Board of Directors.

Sunday was, for me, a little informal time. I went to church in Chicago, and then took an ASA-sponsored three-hour bus tour of Chicago. While I couldn’t see too much, I shot pictures as best I could, and a seat mate was extremely gracious in helping me take some really good pictures. There was an informative narration by a tour guide, which I really enjoyed.

The Exhibit Hall opened Sunday at noon, so after the tour I took my first of several visits to the varied and informative technical exhibits by anesthesia vendors – including those offering various brain activity monitors. For Sunday evening, I had been invited to join a friend who was invited to "an event." That’s all I knew at the time. It turned out to be a private showing of the King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum!! What a wonderful treat – and I cannot sufficiently thank the hosts of this special event and their guest who took me along.

Monday I attended a session on "Should Anesthesiologists Take Part in Lethal Injections?" [I have to look up the precise names and titles]. It was a very lively panel discussion with three people of widely varying stances on the death penalty itself in addition to the role anesthesiologists have been asked to play by the Courts, and the moral and ethical conflicts it poses with their Hippocratic Oath. Again, I spoke during the comment period. I explained that I have testified about the efficacy of the lethal injection protocol versus the legal mandate that the executionee be asleep. I told them that my testimony reveals, as closely as possible, the torture an unanesthetisized executionee may experience, and that death most likely comes from suffocation rather than a stopping of the heart. I was able, from firsthand experience, to tell of the level of education and lack of medical expertise of most prison wardens and death squads; and of a recent article in a weekly newsmagazine about the backgrounds of some of the (unidentified) members of execution teams as including ex-cons, drug abusers, registered sex offenders, DUI drivers, and others with criminal backgrounds. I think both panel and audience were surprised at this information. I lastly explained that my testimony has no bearing on my opinion of the execution sentence, but that the procedure does not follow the legal mandate for anesthesia – and that I could swear under oath that if an executionee did indeed experience conscious paralysis prior to death, he/she may just be the lucky one, because they do not wake to the terror of anesthesia awareness every day for the rest of their life.

Due to an international cellphone number, and my total inability to access it, I missed meeting Saturday at 11:00 with a researcher from Holland who wants to do a study using some of the victims in my database; but we will make contact soon.

Monday afternoon I attended a session entitled, "Depth of Anesthesia" [I have to look up the precise names and titles]. Again, a very informative session (my notes will help me tell about this one). 

Tuesday was the very-long awaited meeting with a President of the ASA! Dr. Orin Guidry and I actually met under the overhang to our hotel, when he called out to me, asked where I was headed at 6:45 a.m. – I told him I did not want to be late for our 8:00 a.m. meeting.  He graciously offered me a taxi ride to McCormick Place (the convention bus service left much to be desired) where Dr. Guidry had a 7:00 a.m. meeting. I got some juice and looked over my notes while he had this early meeting. The ride in the cab provided a perfect informal way for us to become acquainted. We met at 8:00 a.m.    I must thank Dr. Guidry for being the first ASA elected official to agree to speak with me in the 8-3/4 years of this Campaign’s existence. Actually, we had spoken by phone earlier in the Spring about the possible formation of an ASA database of awareness incidents and victim accounts with access to their medical records for further study of the occurrence, severity, prevention, and treatment of anesthesia awareness. Our discussion was open, frank, cordial, honest, and helpful and hopeful. Dr. Guidry and I immediately agreed our goal is the same: for there never to be another incidence of anesthesia awareness. We did, however, agree that our approaches may differ, but that we could still work together. I presented Dr. Guidry with your moving sample answers to the question, "What Would You Like To Tell the ASA?" and also the willingness you expressed to take part in studies (no names were revealed yet). There is a good possibility that an article featuring some of your accounts may be published in the ASA Newsletter. [Please see the addendums to my article by those with whom I met.] I cannot thank Dr. Guidry enough for agreeing to meet with me in open discussion.

That was not all for Tuesday! Dr. Guidry escorted me to my next meeting, "WHAT? You Want Me To Do Surgery Without a Brain Function Monitor? NEVER!" [I have to look up the precise names and titles]. On the way into the meeting, I was greeted by the 2007-2008 President Elect, Dr. Jeffrey Apfelbaum. This proved to be another lively point-counterpoint session. I had fully intended to ask my (in)famous question about the use of brain activity monitoring being used "at the discretion of the individual practitioner" if there is no mandate that monitors be available. I did make that comment. However, during the session, the debater playing the "against monitoring" role said, in his agreed-upon role as "counterpoint speaker," some things that really stirred up my personal PTSD, and I spoke rather passionately about the ability (or likelihood) that awareness victims forget their experiences – ever! (Other than this one time, I was pretty calm, for me!)

Tuesday still was not over, because I had also pre-arranged a meeting with Christopher Bettin, Senior Director of Communications of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) to view an exhibit and attend a special reception on the History of Medical Science (which included a fascinating room on ophthalmic history). Jeff Beutler, CRNA and  Executive Director of the AANA attended also. Then I was treated to a exquisite dinner at the Drake Hotel’s seafood restaurant where we continued forming a great working relationship..

Tuesday was a long, but very, very rewarding day for anesthesia awareness.  The topic of the movie, AWAKE, came up in almost every venue. It is of great concern to anesthesia providers everywhere. While I certainly hope to see the movie, perhaps attend a premiere, and have some victims with me to comment on whether the movie is "worse, better, same" than experiencing awareness, I did agree that I am, at this point, able to add to any comments I may be asked to make, that there is, for the first time, true hope for improvement in the prevention and treatment of anesthesia awareness.

In summary, I must thank everyone I had contact with, everyone who agreed to meet with me, the many people who sought me out to say hello and comment on the work of this Campaign, even the support staff for the convention and hotel and airlines and airports.

Merry Christmas, Mama