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Biology, chemistry, Sustainability

Turns out my anaesthesia sensitivity makes me better for climate change

I don’t deal well with general anaesthetic. And unfortunately, I’ve had enough opportunity to experience it that I know what alternatives work best for me. It turns out, at least in the hospitals where I’ve had surgery, that they put you to sleep with intravenous anaesthesia but then switch you onto gas. I know this because between nausea, having low oxygen intake, and being generally completely out of it after multiple surgeries they stopped switching me to the gas. Kept me on the IV version the whole time and it was glorious. I wasn’t exactly functional after surgery, I’d just had surgery after all, but I was coherent and not vomiting both huge wins after experiencing the other so many times.

With all these surgeries I have wondered about the environmental impacts. Single use plastics, sterile packaging, waste, they all went through my mind. But I hadn’t actually thought of the anaesthetic itself. Dr Niek Sperna Weiland from the Amsterdam University Medical Center has though and the gaseous anaesthetics are horrible for climate change with up to 6800 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide and lifespans over 100 years (Weiland, 2022). The gases have been found in remote areas of Antarctica and high in the Alps so they are getting around and having an impact.

What are the alternatives? Well, I get one, total intravenous anaesthesia (TIVA). Cutting out the more potent gases in favour of one with “only” 440 times the global warming potential is another one (it’s better than the other alternatives). A third option isn’t possible yet, but Weiland hopes technologies can be developed to recapture the gases after use.

Weiland describes this as a quick win when it comes to climate change. We have better alternatives and for what’s left we can at least use the best of the worst. So what might prevent the change. As far as I know, the reason to switch you onto gas is that it’s cheaper. So there’s a good chance it will come down to money because there are, for most people, no difference in outcomes between the various options. There is a difference for me, so I already have notes places saying that I need to stay the IV route, but this gives me one more reason to advocate for what I need, it’s what the planet needs too.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.

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