The View From Here by Anita Lesko
ABC may have a hit show in “The Good Doctor” but Anita Lesko is an autistic woman in a high-stress, fast-paced, demanding job as an Anesthetist. She shares her story in “The View From Here.”
It’s been nine years since I discovered I’m on the autism spectrum.
I went the first fifty years of my life not knowing why I’m so different, never fit in, and had endless sensory issues, social difficulties, and balance and coordination problems. Despite all the never-ending obstacles, I always forged ahead to follow my dreams and accomplish my goals. I simply recognize that I had to work harder than others for everything I did.
One night while eating dinner at work, one of my co-worker’s burst into the lounge in tears. Her son had just been diagnosed with Asperger’s. I had never heard of it. She had some papers in her hand, which she handed me to see. The first thing I saw was a test, stating that if you had ten out of twelve of the symptoms, you have Asperger’s. As I proceeded to read the list, my eyes grew wider by the second. There, in that fateful moment, I had the greatest “ah-ha!” moment of my life.
I had twelve out of twelve symptoms.
Suddenly all the pieces of the puzzle of my life fell into place and created the whole picture. I have Asperger’s. And so, a new journey began. I received my formal diagnosis three weeks later from a neuropsychologist.
I have been working full time for over thirty years now as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. I’ve done over 60,000 cases to date. I earned my Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia from Columbia University in New York City in 1988. I specialize in anesthesia for neurosurgery, organ transplants, trauma/burns, and orthopedic joint replacement surgery. It is a high-stress, fast-paced job that is extremely demanding. I have patient’s lives in my hands every day. It was during my anesthesia training in NYC where I mastered executive functioning. I would never have been able to do this intense job otherwise.
There’s a new nurse at work in the operating room. She’s a traveler and has worked in thirty different states at as least as many hospitals. When I met her and learned that, I asked, “In all your travels, have you encountered anyone on the autism spectrum working in the operating room?” She bellowed” Good grief! No one on the autism spectrum could ever survive this crazy work environment! All this chaos, noise, loud music, bright lights, instant change of case assignments, hustle & bustle go-go-go pace. Impossible.” I smiled a big grin, to which she asked why I was looking at her like that. “Because I’m autistic,” I replied. Her eyes popping out, she gasped, “then you are a superhero!”
The ABC smash hit The Good Doctor is great because it portrays an autistic individual in the very work environment I’m in for real. At work they call me ‘The Good Doctor!’ I tell audiences that I star in the weekday drama ‘The Good Anesthetist!’
I lead a pretty hectic life.
I get up at 2:45 am each weekday morning, and I’m in the operating room by 5 am. All day I’m doing anesthesia for my assigned cases for the day. I also interact with many people all day long. By 3 or 4 pm, I’m pretty wiped out. Depending on the type of surgery, I do either general anesthesia, or spinal anesthesia.
In general anesthesia, the patient is given Propofol which renders them unconscious, along with narcotics, muscle relaxants, and benzodiazepines. Once they are “asleep” I look down into their larynx with a lighted instrument called a laryngoscope to visualize their vocal cords. That is the entrance into the trachea. I then pass an endotracheal tube through the cords into the trachea. That tube then gets attached to a breathing circuit from the anesthesia machine and the ventilator does the breathing for the patient throughout the surgery. I then turn on the inhalation anesthetic gas along with the oxygen, which is what keeps the patient anesthetized. This is called Induction. There are a multitude of monitors to stay vigilant over throughout the surgery, in addition to the surgery itself, blood loss, maintaining proper depth of anesthesia, and keeping the patient safe. I must remain in the operating room throughout the entire case. This is the maintenance phase. Then at the end of surgery, once the surgeons have completed the surgery and the incision is closed and dressings on, I wake the patient up, called Emergence. I turn off the anesthesia gas, reverse muscle relaxants, and at the appropriate time remove the breathing tube. This is just a very simplified description. During your training you are taught not only the numerous ways to give anesthesia, all the necessary drugs, but also the many things that can go wrong and how to treat them. There’s a ton of pharmacology I must know, and all the different health conditions, diseases, and how the anesthesia interacts with all of them.
I love to do spinal anesthetics. Because I’ve got great visualization skills, as I’m prepping the patient’s back and placing the sterile drapes, I’m using that time to visualize their spine and where I’m going to place the spinal needle to inject the local anesthetic. The staff always ask if I have x-ray eyes, as I’m highly proficient at it.
I use my vacation time (six weeks of that per year) to fly all over the country and speak at autism conferences and other venues.
For the ones put on by my publisher, Future Horizons, I speak with Temple Grandin. At the other events I’m the keynote speaker. I had the honor of speaking at the United Nations for World Autism Awareness Day 2017. I’m always writing articles, chapters for other books, and working on another book. We’ve got many rescue animals to care for, horses, cats, dogs, guinea hens. I’m married to my soul mate, Abraham, who’s also autistic. I also work out six days a week with strength training and cardiovascular conditioning.
My latest adventure is becoming a Certified Executive/Life Coach. I took an intensive course which consisted of all neurotypicals in the class. I am now doing coaching in many venues, both corporate, working with executives and innovative leaders, and life coaching with individuals to empower them to reach their biggest dreams. I’m now on track for becoming a Master Certified Coach.
I’m currently working on development of a very unique and tailored life coaching program for those on the autism spectrum. This will allow me to incorporate my visualization skills into the coaching. It’s going to be for both individuals on the spectrum, their parents, for therapists, educators, and everyone involved with autism.
I have a new book coming out April 1st, Becoming an Autism Success Story.
I share how I re-wired my autistic brain, by the brain’s ability to change, called neuroplasticity. I have been using visualization throughout my entire life for everything I’ve accomplished. I followed my dream of learning how to jump horses over six-foot-high obstacles, achieved a great career, I became an internationally published military aviation photojournalist and reached my goal of getting a flight in an F-15 fighter jet. I included my guide for others to learn visualization to reach their dreams.
Anita Lesko is an internationally recognized autism activist since being diagnosed at age fifty. A Columbia University graduate, Anita has a 30-year career as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, specializing in anesthesia for neurosurgery, organ transplants, trauma/burns, and orthopedic joint replacement surgery. Award-winning author, motivational speaker, member of the Autism Society of America’s Panel of Spectrum Advisors, Board member International Board of Sensory Accessibility, Certified Executive/Life Coach, United Nations Guest Speaker, internationally published military aviation photojournalist, animal rescuer, married to her soul mate Abraham, also autistic.
THE VIEW FROM HERE: Jacob Fuentes
Jacob has been sharing his transition journey from high-school to college. Read “I’ll Never Go to Harvard…And That’s Okay.” After this article he wrote an update saying he had applied to colleges and was already accepted into one. Here’s what happened next:
“Since the last update, I have been accepted into 8 schools and have narrowed down my choice to three. I am taking the next month to weigh the pros and cons of each school; taking into consideration factors such as distance from home, scholarships offered, disability services, and student life. I will be touring the schools again, and even sitting in on a few classes to fully develop my opinions. I’m not really nervous about making my choice because they all are great schools and all are willing to offer me the tools I need to succeed. Why else would I have chosen them?”
THE VIEW FROM HERE: Carly Fulgham
Carly has been sharing her journey from her diagnosis to motherhood. Read “My Road to Motherhood.” Time flies when you have a baby, and Carly shares her latest parenting joys:
“It’s hard to believe my boy is almost 14 months already. It is amazing to see him learn and grow. I’m still finding time to advocate, but I’m being more selective in what I do. Ever since he was born, when I haven’t known what to say to him, I’ve made up songs. Now I’m seeing he has a love for music. Last night when the Oscars came on, we watched the opening set. He was swaying with me to the beat and clapped at the end. It’s those little milestones that make your heart swell.”
READ MORE ARTICLES:
Editor’s Letter: In this Issue: Fierce Advocates for Women and Autistic Rights
Powerful Women Cover Story Interviews
- Alyssa Milano Speaks Out for a Better World for All Women
- Julia Bascom on the Amazing, Vibrant and Resilient Autistic Community
- Sharon daVanport Finds Power in Her Joy
- Mia Ives-Rublee: Stop Listening to the Naysayers & Fight for What You Believe
- Hala Ayala: Seeking Out and Learning from Diverse Voices
- Senator Duckworth: A Lifelong Mission of Supporting, Protecting and Keeping Promises
- From Feeling Powerless to Owning My Power by Morénike Giwa Onaiwu
- Advocating for Others by Advocating for Myself by Chana Bennett-Rumley
- Facing the Music and Changing My Life by Michelle DeVos, Esq.
- The Three Amigas: An Unexpected Friendship by Dani Bowman
In Every Issue
- Cummings and Goings: Finding Power in Who You Are by Conner Cummings
- #AskingAutistics: Have You Ever Been Accused of Acting MORE Autistic? by Christa Holmans
- Don’t Get Me Down: Fighting Autistic Inertia by Becca Lory Hector
Big Question: What Advice Would You Give to Your Younger Self?
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