As an anesthesia technician, one of the things we are told early on is that if you don’t have a death under anesthesia “you aren’t doing enough anesthesia.” This can be a hard fact to stomach, but it’s true. If like me, you’re performing anesthesia for 80 percent of your day at work you see death from many causes whether it be drug related or caused by a disease process unable to compensate for the changes in physiology caused by anesthesia. A 2012 study showed that an overall death rate for animals undergoing anesthesia was 1.35 percent.

So, what do you do when you and your patient fall into that 1.35 percent? How do you as a team leader guide your staff through the tragedy and all of the feelings associated? How do you pick up the pieces and move on to other surgeries and other patients that need your expertise? And how do you do all of these things when the patient belongs to one of your own team members?

About three weeks ago that’s exactly what was swirling around in my head as I tried to comprehend what was unfolding.

I have been in the anesthesia field for 14 years and I have to say it’s my love, it’s my comfortable bed in the clinic. I know the beep and hum of my monitors and am soothed by the swishing of a doppler. I have a respect for death because in anesthesia he is always waiting in the corner. But as I have become more proficient with this field, he has shrunk down. Over time, he has even started to blend in with the walls.

When this tragedy struck our hospital, I had all of the same questions I usually do as a supervisor: How? Why? When? Where? Trying to piece together details to come to an informed decision and explain how this could have happened. But the different thing was: this wasn’t another employee I was trying to rationalize with and talk down before they leave vet med completely forever… this time I was talking to myself. I was the technician in charge of this pet and I had failed.

I had missed something, I was incapable of fixing this problem. As other employees rallied around me I noticed how supportive they were. They could have easily come around with blame and anger and gossip but instead it was love. I received the most profound statement from my hospital administrator, a simple text message that read:

“I am so sorry you are going through this tragedy. We will process this together, we will heal together, and if a change needs to be made, we will do it together.”

If only all practice cultures could get on board with this! We are a team, we will do this together, we will have fun together, we will go through tragedy, and we will be a better team because we will do it together.

I still have so much self-doubt and guilt when it comes to this situation. I wish I could have done more. For a minute I questioned whether or not I should continue in vet med. But, I am an anesthesia technician. Death and I can share the same space. I just hope he doesn’t think I will leave my love when I become part of the 1.35 percent.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.


Tasha is a Certified Veterinary Technician from Glenside, PA. She is also a certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner and works closely with the IVAPM to educate the public about animal pain awareness. Tasha loves to lecture on various anesthesia and pain management topics around the globe. In her spare time Tasha enjoys reading, spending time with her son, and trying to figure out “what kind of game is Petyr Baelish playing anyway”.