The Septuagenarian Speaks – published January 22, 2020, Siskiyou Daily News

Today’s column is a politics-free-zone.  As the United States Senate begins doing its thing this week, there will be no mention here of the I-word.  So, those of you who need a politics fix today will need to search elsewhere.  Not that there aren’t plenty of places to search.

Today I want to talk about the P-word.  No, not politics.  The P-word for today is … propofol.

As I write this column, it has been nearly six months since I experienced the excitement of an E-Ticket ride to Fairchild Medical Center in an ambulance, with the siren blaring.  That morning six months ago I woke up nauseated, and, after a bout of vomiting, my air passage was blocked.  I couldn’t breathe!  My wife called 911, and, within minutes, members of the Yreka Volunteer Fire Department showed up, followed shortly thereafter by an ambulance from Mt. Shasta Ambulance Service.  Looking back today, some six months later, I’m convinced I would not have survived but for a combination of factors, which included:

  1. Living in a small town with little traffic, where the ambulance and hospital are just a few blocks away; and
  2. Benefiting from the high quality of care I received from the hospital and the medical professionals who cared for me.

Last Friday morning, I paid another visit to Fairchild Medical Center (this time, happily, not in an ambulance).  This was for a follow-up endoscopy (EGD) to see if my upper GI tract had healed from the dismal state it was in six months before.  An EGD nowadays is a routine procedure that nevertheless sounds horrifying in its description.  The correct technical term for the procedure is esophagogastroduodenoscopy.  Go ahead, pronounce it, if you can.  The word has 26 letters (the number of letters in the English alphabet).  It is a procedure used to visually examine the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum with a tiny camera on the end of a flexible tube.  In other words, the doctor jams a tube nearly four-feet-long down your throat to take pictures of the insides of those body parts.  Sounds pretty gross, right?  Like torture.  Well, it’s not.  One word explains the reason why it’s not: propofol.

The purpose of my recent EGD was to check the status of the peptic ulcer, one of three ailments I had been diagnosed with six months ago that landed me in the hospital for six days.  I’m happy to say that those three issues appear to have resolved.  I’m still a bit gimpy, but not from the original three ailments.  Six days in the hospital followed by a period of being mostly bed-ridden caused my core muscles to weaken, allowing my already degenerative spine problems to flare up, causing extreme low back pain.  I’ve been working on the back pain with physical therapy and exercise, and hope to be back to normal soon.

Many people nowadays link propofol to Michael Jackson.  Sometimes referred to as the “milk of anesthesia,” it was the drug that killed him at age fifty.  The Michael Jackson incident gave propofol a bit of a black eye, but it really wasn’t propofol’s fault.  His death was the result of a perfect storm created by a demanding, addicted, needy, mentally unstable patient and a sleaseball doctor, a bad combination.  The book “83 Minutes: The Doctor, the Damage, and the Shocking Death of Michael Jackson,” by Matt Richards and Mark Langthorne, gives a well-written account of the star’s demise, caused by a fatal concoction of medications in his system, including an excessive amount of the surgical anesthetic propofol.  It had been administered to Michael Jackson to help him sleep.  According to the authors, Jackson’s treating physician, Dr. Conrad Murray “was not, nor ever would have been, suited to be the caretaker of a complicated patient like Michael Jackson.”  Much of the book’s source material was testimony given at Dr. Murray’s subsequent trial, wherein he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison for the death of Michael Jackson.

Propofol, when administered properly, is a wonderful anesthesia medication, especially for short out-patient procedures like mine, because it can be “turned on” and “turned off” quickly, and for most people, has no side effects.  I was lying on the gurney impatiently wondering when the doctor was going to begin the procedure, when the nurse told me, “It’s already done.  In just a few minutes you can get dressed and be out of here.”

I’m thankful to Dr. Steve Nelson, who performed my EDG, and to CRNA Samuel Birkholz, who administered the propofol, for their excellent and professional care.  I’m also thankful to not be Michael Jackson.

Bob Kaster
Yreka, CA

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