Your surgery could harm yourself and the planet. Here's what some doctors are doing about it.

Your surgery could harm yourself and the planet. Here's what some doctors are doing about it.

Certain gases used for anesthesia are 3,000 times more damaging for the climate than CO2. Some anesthesiologists are pointing to other solutions.

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This is part 1 of a three part series on a new generation of doctors leading the charge to make the health care industry more sustainable - for the benefit of their patients and the planet. Read part 2 here and part 3 here.

Susanne Koch, an anesthesiologist and neurologist, reached a pivot point when she was up to her neck in water, almost literally. The basement of her house in Berlin had flooded in the summer of 2018, when Berlin was pummeled by unusually strong rains. After she drained the house, “I wanted to dig into facts, to understand how exactly these extreme weather events are related to climate change,” she says.

Studying the scientific literature, she realized how urgent the climate crisis is, but the biggest shock was to learn that her profession contributed substantially to the problem: Inhalation gases used during medical procedures are among the most damaging greenhouse gases. Some inhalation gases are 3,000 times more damaging for the climate than CO2, Koch discovered. “Spending seven hours in the surgery room is the equivalent of driving a car for four days nonstop,” she says. Her job of helping people at Europe’s largest university hospital, the Charité in Berlin, was inadvertently damaging both the people and the planet.

“Nobody had ever even mentioned a word about that during my training,” Koch says.

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Michaela Haas
Michaela Haas, PhD, is an award-winning reporter and author, most recently of Bouncing Forward: The Art and Science of Cultivating Resilience (Atria). Her work has been published in the New York Times, Mother Jones, the Huffington Post, and numerous other media. Find her at www.MichaelaHaas.com and Twitter @MichaelaHaas!
When doctors couldn’t stop her daughter’s seizures, this mom earned a PhD and found a treatment herself.

Savannah Salazar (left) and her mother, Tracy Dixon-Salazaar, who earned a PhD in neurobiology in the quest for a treatment of her daughter's seizure disorder.

LGS Foundation

Twenty-eight years ago, Tracy Dixon-Salazaar woke to the sound of her daughter, two-year-old Savannah, in the midst of a medical emergency.

“I entered [Savannah’s room] to see her tiny little body jerking about violently in her bed,” Tracy said in an interview. “I thought she was choking.” When she and her husband frantically called 911, the paramedic told them it was likely that Savannah had had a seizure—a term neither Tracy nor her husband had ever heard before.

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Sarah Watts

Sarah Watts is a health and science writer based in Chicago.

A robot cafe in Tokyo is making work possible for people with disabilities.

A robot server, controlled remotely by a disabled worker, delivers drinks to patrons at the DAWN cafe in Tokyo.

Photo courtesy of dawn2021.orylab.com.

A sleek, four-foot tall white robot glides across a cafe storefront in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district, holding a two-tiered serving tray full of tea sandwiches and pastries. The cafe’s patrons smile and say thanks as they take the tray—but it’s not the robot they’re thanking. Instead, the patrons are talking to the person controlling the robot—a restaurant employee who operates the avatar from the comfort of their home.

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Sarah Watts

Sarah Watts is a health and science writer based in Chicago.