Every year in October, anesthesiologists celebrate or commemorate Anesthesia Week. I will write this time about the anesthesiologist as victims and victors. My column got its inspiration from Roger Water’s (or Pink Floyd’s) song “Comfortably Numb.”

I picture a patient suffering from pain and affliction and the best way to liberate this person from the suffering is through a surgeon’s knife. Without anesthesia this bloody and painful process cannot proceed. There had to be something to numb the person, put him/her to sleep until the surgical pathology is taken away from, or fixed inside the body. To be comfortably numb requires both cutting edge art and science. It requires deep understanding of interplay between the drugs or technology with the body.

Just like any tool, the specialty can be a double-edged sword. It can be used either to dominate or to liberate. The anesthesia practitioner may decide for whom his/her practice is. Dominant Medicine (some would call it “Western” but nowadays it is, North American-European Medicine), has taken the center stage, and has in the process, exposed the practitioners vulnerable to neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism is a complex economic ideology that promotes free market. Free market means that prices are determined by competition which is unrestricted among privately owned businesses. Translated into the practice of anesthesia, it means that the anesthesia service has a price tag. Anesthesia practice is privately owned business. The business turns anesthesia practitioners into competing business owners. Our patients under this context are not citizens needing health care. They are not seen as citizens that also contribute to national development. Our patients are consumers that need to pay for our services.

While, as global citizens, we repudiate corruption, doctors also find it difficult to connect the partnership between the practitioners and the pharmaceutical industry as a form of corruption. We come up with millions of justifications for such partnership. This is the same structure that justifies the partnership between governments and corporations. It is not true that politicians are independent when they push for legislations that favor pharmaceutical corporations or other corporations. This is because the real rulers are corporate players. Neoliberalism is also compatible with corporatocracy, meaning, the world system is governed by corporations.

The inequalities, environmental degradation, the wars and militarism are all linked to this kind of economic system. The face of inequality is a patient crying before us, doctor-anesthetists, for a negotiated fee. The manifestation of environmental degradation is flooding during rainy days because we justify the use of fossil fuel to power our air conditions when we sleep or when we work comfortably. War is the war for resource control that justifies massive human rights violations, displacing indigenous communities because anyway ours government label them as rebels or rebel sympathizers.

But all is not lost. Anesthesia practitioners can choose to be enlightened. We can choose to be global citizens with social accountability. We can liberate ourselves from the slavery of the reductionist neoliberal philosophy. Our compassion for our fellow citizens, our contribution to sustainable and inclusive consciousness in our day to day practice makes us victors. Our best anesthesia is the ideology that we help liberate and transform society. We use it to protect ourselves from the painful and bloody process, in the same way that science of anesthesia liberates the patients from the illness and be equal citizens again. This way we opt to be victors. (davaotoday.com)

Dr. Jean Lindo is an anesthesiologist, community medicine practitioner, environmentalist, and women’s rights advocate based in Davao City. She is the chair of Gabriela Southern Mindanao Region and co-chair of the environmental group Panalipdan! Mindanao.

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