For many of the 40 million Americans who undergo anesthesia each year, it is the source of great fear and fascination. From the famous first demonstration of anesthesia in the Ether Dome at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846 to today’s routine procedure that controls anxiety, memory formation, pain relief, and more, anesthesia has come a long way. But it remains one of the most extraordinary, unexplored corners of the medical world.
In Counting Backwards, Dr. Henry Jay Przybylo—a pediatric anesthesiologist with more than thirty years of experience—delivers an unforgettable account of the procedure’s daily dramas and fundamental mysteries. Przybylo has administered anesthesia more than 30,000 times in his career—erasing consciousness, denying memory, and immobilizing the body, and then reversing all of these effects—on newborn babies, screaming toddlers, sullen teenagers, even a gorilla. With compassion and candor, he weaves his experiences into an intimate exploration of the nature of consciousness, the politics of pain relief, and the wonder of modern medicine.

Filled with intensity and humanity, with moments of near-disaster, life-saving success, and simple grace, Counting Backwards is for anyone curious about what happens after we lose consciousness.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

There is nothing as fascinating as anesthesia. The very idea of being in a state where your insides could be cut, manipulated, and sewn back together is mind-blowing; yet this happens on a daily basis all over the world. COUNTING BACKWARDS is the personal account of a person with intimate knowledge and respect for this phenomenon.

He shares stories of the good, the bad, and the ugly surgeries that he has overseen. From babies to gorillas, he has seen more than his share. The book is not just medical jargon; he recounts his interactions with patients and shares some of his most intimate thoughts with us. We learn what his routine is when setting up for a surgery – and why it never varies. We learn the history and development of anesthesia drugs – and why he creates a new plan for each patient. Dr Przybylo is a caring and meticulous man, one that I would want in the surgery suite with me.

This memoir came about when he enrolled in the MFA program at Goucher College; a step that is admirable and daunting. His professors must have loved encouraging and developing his writing style, as the story flows as smoothly as isoflurane into the lungs. The good doctor draws from his years of experience as he discusses patients, medicine, and humanity. Each story has a moral of sorts – they don’t always have a happy ending – but there is always a lesson to be learned.

It takes a special person to have the intelligence to understand the workings of anesthesia, while also possessing the compassion to care for people. The human race can be a frustrating and ugly bunch while sick and/or scared – I’ve been one of those people a few times. Dr Przybylo is kind enough, as well as strong enough, and that is what made this book stand out for me. There was just enough anesthetic detail and gore to keep me interested, while keeping the human condition firmly front and center. This book would be a wonderful addition to someone’s medical library.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.