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The Holistic Foundations of Anesthesia—the Difficulty of Disassociating the Mind With the Body



Anesthesia is one of the more common medical practices in the Western world, used for many types of procedures ranging from heart surgery to the removal of tumors and even dental work. Because it is so common, more medical personnel need to be trained in its proper use, since mistakes can occur otherwise (as with any form of medicine). Deaths are extremely rare in the modern age since more precise standards have been set. Still, if you’re a registered nurse, it might be in your best interests to receive some training in anesthesia such as those offered at Valley Anesthesia, as it is increasingly likely that you will find it usefulsooner or later.

Anesthesiology has a long history, dating back to the early nineteenth century. One of the earliest uses was in 1804 when Haneoka Seishu mixed various herbal extracts to induce an unconscious state in his patient. Soon after, ether became common for uses in a variety of medical procedures. Although the use of anestheticmedications seems to be purely physical, it is actually more holistic than one might imagine.

The goal is to achieve different endpoints with minimal risk to the patient. General anesthesia suppresses the central nervous system and causes unconsciousness in the patient and a total lack of sensation throughout his or her body. Sedation, the aspect of the process that most of us think of when the word anesthesia comes up, keeps the nerve impulses between the cerebral cortex and the limbic system from occurring. Then there is conductive anesthesia, which keeps the nerve signals from a targeted part of the body from connecting to the spinal cord. There are many drugs used to achieve anesthesia, from hypnotics, to narcotics, to analgesics.

It is perhaps these drugs that make anesthesia such a holistic form of medicine. Hypnosis, for example, is similar to the process of going to sleep. In the hypnotic state that anesthesia can provoke, there is not only a loss of consciousness but a loss of memory. The loss of memory occurs when a number of different drugs affect different regions of the brain, some of them not intended.

Declarative and non-declarative are the two types of memory we have. Declarative memories are those that recall facts or verbal information. Non-declarative memories are those that we use for performing an action, like driving a car or making coffee in the morning. Anesthetics affect these different memories depending on the dosage and the mixture of drugs. In a way, our minds are affected by changes being done to our body, influencing the way we store information while we are under the influence of the drugs.

Even more intriguing is the effect anesthesia has on consciousness, which we can describe as a kind of higher process in which we synthesize information. The patient can actually have a form of subjective consciousness during a procedure while showing no signs of it. These cases are rare, but it does suggest that some holistic connection between the inner workings of the mind and the body occur, even when drugs are used to separate the two. The Rene Descartes mind-body problem, or Cartesian Dualism, goes all the way back to the 17th century, but still into the 21st century, consciousness remains,in many ways, a mystery to us – philosophers, psychologists, and scientists included. Transhumanists even say that we will be able to transplant out individual consciousness into a computer, but obviously, this remains more conjecture than fact at this point.

Whether you’re a philosopher or psychologist, neuroscientist or nurse, anaesthesiology offers an exciting way to understand how the body and mind work together. Much like many areas of medicine, there is much to be learned, and even more that is yet to be understood.