General Anesthesia

I don’t remember the first time I ever heard the term “general anesthesia,” probably because it’s not the kind of phrase that raises any red flags.

“General” is, almost by definition, about as generic a word as you can get. And “anesthesia” had only positive implications. You want anesthesia. Anyone who’s hung out with a combat medic at a bar knows this, above all things.

So when I learned I would have to have a minor surgical procedure last week, and my doctor told me I’d be going under general anesthesia, I was like “Okay!”

He paused. “Do you have any… questions about that?” he asked.

“Nope, sounds good!”

Since I’d never had surgery before (except dental surgery, I told my doctor, which made him seem to suppress a smile, as if I’d asked him if haircuts counted), I didn’t understand that going under general anesthesia was the kind of thing that you might have questions about.

“I’ll be fine!” I told Liz at home when I told her about general anesthesia.

“The hospital just called to ask if you had a will,” she said.

“What? What for? It’s general anesthesia,” I said.

“That’s the big one! That’s the big anesthesia!”

So that sure made the trip to the hospital more apprehensive. Certainly more than going for that root canal a couple of years ago, where my principle fear was that I’d end up drooling in my yogurt.

At the hospital they pointed me to what was apparently the individual pre-op waiting room, but which was in reality just a kind of large changing room with a comfy chair. It was about four feet from the nurse’s station. Seriously, four feet. Maybe five.

“Put this on,” the nurse said, handing me a papery kind of robe. “You can change in there, then you can just make yourself comfortable in that chair.”

Few things terrify me more than hospital robes. They get thrust at you, like you’ve been putting them on every day since you were a kid. Like you’ve been practicing in your bedroom.

But they’re not like any other article of clothing you own. The armholes come out the back, like they were designed for mutant wings. And there’s no buttons or anything, oh no, there are just these two strings, like a belt. Except that one of them is this little nub of a thing and the other is about nine feet long and somehow you’re just supposed to intuit where these wrap around and go through loops and whatnot. You’re staring at this thing and then suddenly the nurse is off on a Code Blue.

These are moments to be feared. Because God forbid – God forbid! – you put it on wrong and open that curtain back up and somebody rushes by you and the mere breeze tears it right off your body, and suddenly you and the only piece of clothing separating you from the animals is in a tangled heap, flying down the hall like tumbleweed.

I caught the nurse’s arm. “You need to show me exactly how to put this on,” I said.

She deftly looped all the right holes, and the robe closed around me, all my clothes still on, and turned to go.

“And I take off all my clothes, right?” I asked, catching her again. “Every article of clothing I have on, I should take off? Is that right? No clothes at all?”

This is the question I always demand of masseurs especially, who infuriatingly say “Whatever makes you feel comfortable!” and I say “It makes me feel comfortable knowing that if I’m supposed to be naked better you spell that out for me right now.”

“Yes, every article,” the nurse said with a sympathetic smile. “Except the robe, of course.”

Which I had already guessed, because wouldn’t that be a sight? Me whipping back the curtain and walking out like that, robe bunched up in my hand, saying “Like this?”

They let Liz come in after I was robed up, and together we met the anesthesiologist. This was at the Tully Center in Stamford, Connecticut. We’ve only had great experiences with doctors in Stamford and this was no different. He asked me a couple of questions before he stopped and studied my hair for a moment.

“Do you have red hair?” he asked.

Which at first struck me as a strange question, since he was looking right at me. Like looking at a guy holding a box of crayons and asking him if he was holding a box of crayons.

“It was bright red growing up,” I said. “I guess it’s much more brown now.”

“Okay,” he said, nodding, as if that made sense. “Because red heads usually need a bit more anesthesia than most.”

I looked at Liz, who looked back at me with furrowed eyebrows.

“You can’t be serious.”

“No, really – look,” he said, and took out his iPhone and scrolled to a Wikipedia page. (Nothing gives me quite as much faith in my doctor as when he double checks some pre-op procedure on a Wikipedia app moments before he does it.)

But sure enough, there it was, in black and white on Wikipedia. And what does that say about me, that this relaxed me? Because I saw it on Wikipedia? You could have written that.

I know now that general anesthesia can be dangerous. But for me, it turned out to be a rather wonderful procedure. Like an instant nap. A nap in a can. A profound, completely deep sleep that I’ve not known since Finn was born two and a half years ago.

On the ride home a few hours later, even with my grogginess and waves of nausea and knowing I’d be taking some pain medication and in bed for a day or so, I talked to Liz about it as if I’d just gotten a hug from the Dalai Lama.

“It was just so pleasant,” I kept saying, which she attributed to delirium but I knew different. Two hours of solid, dreamless sleep, no tossing, no turning, no finely tuned radar listening for Lucy’s cries to be fed or Finn’s cries for Daddy because he woke with a bad dream. Complete and total bliss.

So I’m all fixed up now. And even better, on those sleepless nights, when the kids are sick or I’m anxious or up late working, I have that wonderful memory of general anesthesia, knowing that there’s a place in this world where red heads get special treatment, where we sleep, gloriously, and literally, like a log.

By | 2018-01-19T20:59:55+00:00 June 23rd, 2011|39 Comments


  1. Mark Tisdale June 23, 2011 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    Had general anesthesia a few years ago but after watching my Mom go through several surgeries, it was the last thing I wanted. Her last surgery for her ankle, she managed to talk the doctors into just numbing her, she hated being knocked out. So, I totally thought, that’s what I want for my surgery. The doctor wasn’t thrilled with it and when I met with the anesthetist he couldn’t believe that’s what I wanted, but acquiesced.

    The day of the surgery, they told me that they could knock me out if I changed my mind, just say the word during the surgery. I felt the first dulled sendsation from blade of the knife and the last words I remember before going to lala land was “I felt that, I felt that, knock me out!” It hadn’t hurt but it was just too creepy for me feeling the knife at all!

    Bravo General Anesthesia, more please!

    • Conor June 24, 2011 at 9:31 am - Reply

      Exactly – I can’t even imagine feeling what they’re doing to you. The last thing I remember the doctor saying was “Okay, this isn’t the anesthesia, it’s just going to make you a bit relaxed…”

  2. Rachel M. June 23, 2011 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    mmmm sleep, sounds nice! Glad you are feeling better!

    • Conor June 24, 2011 at 9:32 am - Reply

      I’m still aspiring to that sleep. Maybe in ten years or so?

  3. Alyssa June 24, 2011 at 6:04 am - Reply

    This is all so so true! And that redhead thing (I used to be one as a child) is also true. It took my mother reading some scientific book to realize that I probably wasn’t exaggerating when I complained of severe pain that was only a blip on her radar screen!

    Glad you are all better now 🙂

    • Conor June 24, 2011 at 9:32 am - Reply

      Oh man, I can totally picture you as a little red haired girl running around, Alyssa! I have to tell Liz about that…Cute!!

  4. Ashley June 24, 2011 at 7:37 am - Reply

    If your doctor wants to rely on the internet for medical info he might should know that many sites say the opposite–that redheads have a higher tolerance for pain. I think an episode of Mythbusters came to that same conclusion. 🙂

    • Conor June 24, 2011 at 9:33 am - Reply

      Dang those Mythbusters! Always busting all the best myths!

      • Alyssa June 24, 2011 at 10:00 am - Reply

        Don’t trust the Mythbusters (love them as I do)! The scientific studies bear it out. As does my recent personal experience with 2 major surgeries, followed by medical professionals confirming it for me.

  5. Rebecca P June 24, 2011 at 10:48 am - Reply

    As the mom of 3 redheads I can vouch for the needing- more-anesthesia issue, at least for my boys. They haven’t had major surgery, but they usually always need a bit more at the dentist or when getting stitched up for some injury (and believe me, they make sure the dentist or doctor is well aware of this before he proceeds!).

  6. kelly June 24, 2011 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    I have to laugh! I JUST had this very same conversation with my mom this afternoon about the BLISS of anesthesia! When she went through her divorce, she swears the BEST day that she had in 5 years was the day she went under for back surgery! I too have been under general anesthesia and found it so delightful! Every hospital should offer general anesthesia to every parent with a kid 4 and under on a monthly basis. Likewise for divorces, deaths in the family or any other life change. We would all be much happier and RESTED!

    • Conor July 12, 2011 at 9:32 am - Reply

      Yes, totally – in those cases all you want to do is sleep and have the world disappear. Maybe not have a doctor taking a knife to your skin, but it’s a small price to pay for the ultimate in relaxation!

  7. Juvenal Musavuli June 25, 2011 at 9:11 pm - Reply

    Mr. Grennan,

    How much time do you spend in Nepal? Your blog posts reflect speaking engagements and frolicking in the States, but the persons you have benefited from (the Nepalese) are suffering. Have you no shame?


    • Conor June 26, 2011 at 9:13 am - Reply

      Hi Juvenal,
      I genuinely thought we were doing quite a bit for the Nepalese. We have a full and skilled staff working there. The only way we can support that staff helping kids in Nepal is if I am fundraising in the US. So that’s what I’m doing. That, and trying to provide for my own family. If I was in Nepal, I would be failing on both fronts.

      But this should be a positive forum- and you’re clearly passionate. Please feel free to write to me through our NGN website and share what you’re doing for the people of Nepal. Always happy to join forces. Though I’m super into nice people- it’s a quirk of mine. Just FYI.

      Thanks for writing! I’ll try to make my next post about something more meaningful. Like how my dog tracked, like, a ton of mud into the house yesterday and I was all like “oh man!!!” It was pretty poignant.


    • Rabin June 26, 2011 at 3:54 pm - Reply

      Hi Musavuli,
      As a Nepalese,I m writing this post in reply to your accusation to connor.I think what Connor did was amazing,He was able to make so much difference in so many nepalese life,What would have happen to those kids who were displaced because of the civil war we had,
      I am ashamed to say that Nepali government and politicians are highly corrupt and they think only about themselves,To have a person like Connor to go to a country like Nepal and help those kids is amazing,I could not thank enough to him,I donate some money to Next generation Nepal as I believe it it will go to the right place,and through his book and the fund raising people in US are aware of the situation and the generous donation helps those kids,
      so,whatever he is doing in US is for those kids,
      I believe such a humanitarian act should be encouraged.
      Thank you Connor for helping those kids,
      You made so much difference in those kids’ life,,,..
      and hope u will make difference in many more kids life and make this world a better place to live.

    • Tenzing June 29, 2011 at 9:34 pm - Reply

      I must say you have quite the nerve to write such comment about a person you know nothing about. Even though I am from Nepal, I didn’t know about the situation of child trafficking. It was Conor’s book that helped me understand the situation and also when I went to hear his speech, he has such passion for the kids in Nepal, its so amazing. The work he has done in and out of Nepal, I dun think even people in Nepal would do that. We should be thankful and not leave those kind of useless commentt… Conor, thank you and your family for helping those kids. I cannot wait to see more pictures of them on Facebook and hear updates about them.
      PS this is conor’s bog and last time I checked I think he has all the right to write whatever he wants.

  8. Marcy Prager June 26, 2011 at 6:34 am - Reply


    When Mr. Grennan is having speaking engagements in the states, he is making millions of people aware of the plight of orphans in Nepal. He raises money through his website.

    Mr. Grennan has done what most people do NOT do. He has the right to enjoy his new family and stay home with them so they will know him.

    The “have you no shame” part forced me to write this as a teacher who have touched many…and I don’t have red hair.

    • Conor June 26, 2011 at 11:23 am - Reply

      Hi Marcy,
      I suppose, in fairness, that after reading an entry or two from this blog, it’s easy to conclude that I have no shame. It’s all vomiting being caught naked in public heath facilities. Where’s the dignity?


      • Marcy Prager June 26, 2011 at 12:02 pm - Reply

        You AND Liz have dignity, my friend! And I still believe that your blogs are worthy of a different kind of book. Capturing “fatherhood” is just as important as being civic minded. After all, you have to prepare your own children for the 21st century.

        So keep blogging about your life because there are MANY interested readers who adore reading your words of wisdom and humor.

        By the way, Liz, YOU GO GIRL!

  9. Liz June 26, 2011 at 11:45 am - Reply

    Dr. Musavuli,

    I’m surprised you took the time to leave such a thoughtless message like this on a blog. Do you think that you have an accurate assessment of Conor Grennan’s contribution to Nepal by reading bits and pieces about his life on the internet? How short-sighted and mean-spirited.

    After graduating from one of the country’s top business schools, and securing a job at one of the world’s most prestigious banks, Conor forewent the lucrative opportunity specifically to continue to write about, and to run, Next Generation Nepal. NGN does not pay him a salary…instead Conor donated a large portion of his income to hire a staff for NGN, both in the US and in Nepal. After giving years of his life to Nepal, voluntarily living in poverty, Conor now spends 3-4 hours of each workday running NGN (coordinating with the executive director, the country director and the volunteers), and a good part of each month flying around the country (leaving his wife and children) fundraising for the organization. This keeps Conor from a huge variety of other opportunities, and I assure you it is a very large sacrifice.

    If you were well versed on international NGO’s in Nepal, you’d know that Nepal only allows each INGO one visa for its country director. Conor and his French colleague Farid agreed that Farid would be the one to use the visa, given the necessity of raising funds for such an important mission – reunification of trafficked children with their families. Moreover, for the INGO to get such a visa, the INGO must spend US $100,000 in Nepal each year. That is Conor’s responsibility to raise, and it’s a very heavy burden each month for him to do so. He wakes up many nights with great anxiety about how to keep NGN afloat, and he prays constantly for the strength to keep the organization going.

    The suffering of the world’s poor – the care of widows and orphans – this is something each one of us should take on. I agree with you there. But leaving a hateful message on a blog…frankly, I would think your time would be better spent elsewhere.


    • A Conor supporter July 3, 2011 at 9:55 am - Reply

      For every critic, know there are hundreds who applaud, support, and stand behind Conor. The positive side of things is that although the gentleman’s comments were inappropriate, judgmental and unkind, he cared enough about the plight in Nepal to write. His heart is in the right place but he somehow fails to understand the importance of Conor’s ongoing work in building awareness outside Nepal. Now if he could harness his concern for the children in a constructive manner and build on Conor’s incredible, unselfish work, the children in Nepal will benefit as a result. Conor is lucky to have you, Liz.

  10. Claire June 26, 2011 at 4:03 pm - Reply

    I had a general anethesia last week too! What an amazing sleep – must do it again some time.
    The hardest part is spelling anethesia…anestesia?? Who knows….even my spellcheck can’t decide

    • Conor July 1, 2011 at 9:37 am - Reply

      Yes, totally – friendly, safe anesthesia for naps! I love it!
      And I just had the same experience. My spell check tried to turn my attempt at the anesthesia into “parenthesis.”

  11. Amy July 2, 2011 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    Just finished reading your book. LOVED IT!!!! I saw it at the library last week and the cover caught my eye. I didn’t even read the back, just checked it out. I have barely been able to put it down. Wonderful, wonderful! Once I realized the pictures were in the middle I kept turning back to them the whole time I read. As a Christian I found myself cheering for Liz. Even saying a prayer for you halfway through (when you met Amita on the road) that if you didn’t know the Lord that you would see that he has His hand in your life. Happy to hear you have found him. So again, wonderful and thank you for sharing! I read some of Liz’s blog and saw you were in South Africa. I lived there(Pietermaritzburg) for almost 8 months in 2002 and still have a place for it in my heart. So glad I ran in to your book! Blessings!

    • Conor July 10, 2011 at 6:06 pm - Reply

      Hi Amy! Yes, SA definitely has a huge place in Liz and my hearts as well – we’d so love to get back there. So glad you liked the book, thanks and God bless!

  12. Joanna July 4, 2011 at 6:22 am - Reply

    If you haven’t already, I would like to invite you to try a colonoscopy. Great napping drugs and a cleanse all in one. And if you happen to wake up during the procedure you get to see your colon LIVE!

    • brnoze July 7, 2011 at 2:20 pm - Reply

      I am not sure if I should thank you yet, but I just scheduled my first colonoscopy for the end of August. Yes, I have been putting it off, and not a bit excited about the idea, especially the prep part. So after reading the banter about sleep and all, I called and set up a date. No more details needed.

      • joanna Anderson July 9, 2011 at 10:08 am - Reply

        Wonderful! Enjoy!

        • Conor July 10, 2011 at 6:08 pm - Reply

          I’m looking forward to my first as well! Ah, the things we do to stay healthy for our families….

  13. Renee McLaren July 4, 2011 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    Love it! Ok, how about the worst part of being under local anesthesia? Like when they try to wake you. How dare they call your name and try to pull you out of such a nice, deep sleep? You’re on a hard bed/table with an oxygen mask on your face and you can’t figure out why… why you can’t seem to scratch your itchy nose? And finally, how much can you pay them to leave you alone to sleep here, exactly like this for as long as you want? Recovery room nurses must have a lot to talk about during their coffee breaks!

    • Conor July 10, 2011 at 6:09 pm - Reply

      I can’t even get up from naps. The thought of trying to be pulled out of a medically induced coma seems like my worst nightmare…

  14. Corissa July 7, 2011 at 9:41 pm - Reply

    Wow! I just read your book, its amazing! thanks for sharing, its such an inspiration!!! God bless you!

    • Conor July 12, 2011 at 9:33 am - Reply

      Thanks Corissa! It was a pleasure to share it, thanks for reading!

  15. m July 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm - Reply

    Red head medical article in Dec 2010 BMJ

  16. Jan August 24, 2011 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    Oh, this is marvelous! I just found this blog, and I think I’m going to spend a while here. So many wonderful bits–the red hair bit, the Wikipedia bit, the nap in a can…I loved it.

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