Journal of Advanced Practice Nursing

The Poetic Intimacy Of Administering Anesthesia


By Meredith Rizzo

According to Audrey Shafer, there is something profound in the moment a patient wakes up from surgery.

She would know — she's an anesthesiologist. She's responsible for people when they are at their most vulnerable: unconscious, unable to breathe on their own or even blink their eyes.

As a result, Shafer says, a kind of intimate trust forms between her and her patients. It's this closeness that moves her to write poetry about medicine.

Shafer is an anesthesiologist and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. She directs a program called Medicine and the Muse, which combines the arts, including poetry, with the practice of medicine. Her poetry has appeared in medical journals and poetry anthologies.

Poetry, she says, is a natural means of translating the murkiness of what happens to the brain under anesthesia.

"Anesthesiologists tend to be viewed as more knob-and-dial oriented than people-oriented," she says. But, Shafer argues, that couldn't be further from the truth. When patients finally come out of surgery, she's one of the first people to welcome them back to their conscious experience of the world.

"They can be quite grateful right at that moment they realize 'I've woken up. The surgery is done. I'm OK. I'm back.'" Shafer says. "The anesthesiologist gets to witness that moment."


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Editor-in Chief:
Kirsten Nicole

Editorial Staff:
Kirsten Nicole
Stan Kenyon
Robyn Bowman
Kimberly McNabb
Lisa Gordon
Stephanie Robinson

Kirsten Nicole
Stan Kenyon
Liz Di Bernardo
Cris Lobato
Elisa Howard
Susan Cramer