search burger
search ×

The fear of killing

This interview is part of the series (NOT) I’m afraid


Leonardo is a doctor specializing in anesthesia, has just turned 32 years and enthusiasm alternates a good dose of disillusionment. Mainly because of the conditions in which the National Health System is today. 

We tried to understand the fears that lurk behind a job like yours, a job loaded with heavy responsibilities.

When did you choose to become a doctor?

I don’t have a specific memory, it’s always been in my thoughts. It was a family theme. I liked going to the hospital even as a child. When my parents went to see someone who was sick, I was always in the front row. 

Why are you an anesthesiologist? 

I decided after the first round in the ambulance. I had just graduated. In Lazio there is the rule that in the ambulance there are only doctors. The anesthesiologist arrives from above on the helicopter: he intervenes only if necessary. 

That day I remember that once we got there, we found a dying biker. Despite rescue attempts, no hits. 

At one point, the nurse looks at me and says, "Did you call him Pegasus?" You mean the helicopter with the anesthesiologist in it. You mean the helicopter. Once Pegasus got off, things stabilized. 

That’s when I decided I wanted to be a hero, too. 

Being an anesthesiologist during a scheduled surgery and being in an emergency: what changes?

When you do a routine surgery, the patient is ready. In an emergency, everything changes. 

Paradoxically, however, the risk is higher when the anesthesiologist does not work in emergency. In an emergency, all you can do is help those in front of you. In a planned situation, you can risk making the situation worse. 

What is the biggest fear you have when you fall asleep?

The fear of not being able to manage the airways. Sleeping a patient means taking his breath away. Oxygen in the human brain lasts 2 to 3 minutes. If you can’t oxygenate the sleeping patient in time, you can kill him. 

Have you ever been afraid to kill a patient?

Yes, because the risk is hidden behind any operation. This is why we try to automate all the dynamics that affect anesthesiologists. Even the location of the drugs in the O.R. 

What are the responsibilities of an anesthesiologist?

As soon as he gets into surgery, you take care of the patient and his life. Whatever may happen to him you can intervene with life-saving maneuvers. It is not said, however, that it is always within your power to do so. To simplify: The anesthesiologist makes sure your vitals remain stable. 

How is your work perceived by patients? Do they trust or are afraid?

We work in the shadows. Often the patient doesn’t even know who I am. Our field of action is both concentrated and limited. It is no coincidence that we are called doctors who provide services. 

Accomplice also to the fact that many people think that the anesthesiologist is not a doctor?

It’s easier to die from an anesthesiologist’s mistake than a surgeon’s mistake

Do you have any secrets?

Anxiety management is fundamental. I don’t get excited, I don’t get upset during an unexpected event in the operating room. The anesthesiologist is the team leader of the room. Anxiety must know how to govern it. 

How do you work in the public health system in Italy?

The public should be safeguarded more than any other sector. Health is the most important thing in the world. Every now and then this axiom escapes. Hospitals are understaffed, people are working poorly, health workers are underpaid. Unfortunately, even among young people the dream of working in state hospitals is increasingly blurred. 

Can fear be overcome?

No. Fear can be managed. The more you experience it, the more you know how to control it. But it always remains. The trick is to turn it into efficiency. Fear in the animal kingdom is a stimulus to act.



Illustration by Gloria Dozio - Acrimònia Studios