Curran plans to ‘go with flow’ after 46 years

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By Katie Zerr

There have been major changes in medicine in the 46 1/2 years Jim Curran has been a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), but it’s the changes in the patients that are most memorable for him.
Curran began his career as a CNRA after graduation from a three-year program at Presentation College and a four-year stint in the Air Force. He served in Georgia from 1962 until 1966. After he was discharged he moved to Minnesota, but being from the Sisseton, S.D. area, city life didn’t appeal to him.
His way out of the city came six months later when the then administrator of Mobridge Regional Hospital and fellow CNRA Dave Bauer contacted him about coming to Mobridge.
That was in July of 1966. The medical care at MRH was much different then as doctors were more like general practioners and did their own basic surgeries (removing tonsils, etc.) But other doctors here, Dr. Ed Gerish and Dr. Ron Lawrence, did more complicated surgeries.
It was Curran’s job to put patients under, monitor their vital signs throughout the procedure, bring them out of the anesthesia, and get them ready to go back to their room for recovery.
According to the South Dakota Association of Nurse Anesthetists, it is the CRNA’s job to provide anesthesia in collaboration with surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists, podiatrists, and other qualified healthcare professionals. CRNAs practice in every setting in which anesthesia is delivered: traditional hospital surgical suites and obstetrical delivery rooms; critical access hospitals; ambulatory surgical centers; the offices of dentists, podiatrists, ophthalmologists, plastic surgeons, and pain management specialists; and U.S. military, public health services, and Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities.
Curran said there were different forms of anesthesia in his early career and he even used ether drops for babies.
He’s seen the biggest changes in his field in the technology of the operating room.
“Earlier we were more personal with our patients. Now it is more about the electronics,” he said. “We are watching screens not watching the patients. We are tracking everything so someone else can track you.”
Another of the differences he sees the patients themselves. With more drug and alcohol abuse now, CNRAs sometimes have to make unplanned adjustments in procedures. There are pre-operation procedures that can indicate the drug and alcohol use, but the patient must be honest with doctors before surgery.
“A patient who uses more alcohol reacts differently to the anesthesia,” he said. “The body builds a tolerance and if a person isn’t forthcoming with us, we may have to make adjustments on the fly to be sure they are under.”
He said the obesity epidemic is also a problem in the operating room. Curran said intubation (keeping the airway open) is more difficult with an obese patient. The lack of mobility in an obese patient creates problems, the dosage varies with a person’s weight and the anesthesia settles in the cells of body, more so in fat cells. It makes it more difficult to bring them out of it.
Anesthesia slows the systems of the body down and body temperature drops. Curran said he was once unable to bring an obese patient out of general anesthesia because of low body temperature. The patient was transferred to a larger medical facility and doctors there raised the body temperature enough that the patient woke up on their own.
“Sometimes it is between you and the good Lord,” he said. “You have to do something, but ultimately it is in His hands.”
Curran said caring for the smallest babies is most challenging, as intubation is more difficult. Their lungs are not yet fully developed and they must be constantly monitored.
“We would stabilize them and get them to a bigger medical facility where there is more expertise with the little ones,” he said. “Sometimes I would ride with them, but then the hospital here is without my services if something should happen.”
Curran said there were some personalities in the hospital staff that he worked with that made a big impression on his life, none more than a nurse who came to work at MRH in September 1966.
“I met my wife there,” he laughed. “You can’t get any better than that.”
He and Judy were married in 1968 and raised three children in Mobridge. He has six grandchildren, ages 20 to three, spread out from the North Dakota border to Arizona.
Daughter Jody Ziliak lives with her husband and two children in North Dakota near the Canadian border; son Joel and his wife live in Farmington, Minn., with their two children; and their youngest son, John, and his wife and two kids live in Mesa, Ariz.
He has no plans to leave here when he retires but he and Judy will travel to spend time with their family.
“I don’t want to go south, I enjoy the four seasons here,” he said. “I like hunting small game and deer and the enjoying God’s creations and nature.”
He also likes helping his friends with projects and some of the landowners that allow him to hunt their land with fencing and other jobs that allow him to be outdoors.
He currently has four dogs as his son’s dog is staying in Mobridge. He spends time walking them and working on their hunting skills.
After 46 years of being on call for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he plans to just “go with the flow” in retirement.
Curran said although he is retired the administration at MRH is still looking for his replacement and he has agreed to be available to work until the end of the year. That is when he begins his life without the possibility of being called to work at any hour of the day.
“I sometimes wonder where the 46 years went,” he said. “Like a leaf floating along on the water, it kind of just drifted away.”

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