Leaning Toward the Fun Side in Good Times and Bad

Brian Reid, CRNA, has always charted his own course with a smile on his face. At 70, after providing anesthesia for nearly 50 years, biking across the country, and surviving treatment for a rare form of cancer, he’s only now considering retirement.

“My philosophy is we can make each day as fun or as miserable as we want to. I tend to lean toward the fun side,” he said.

Brian decided to become a CRNA like many other CRNAs—he had a great experience with one during a medical procedure. In the mid-1960s, when Brian was 15, he was diagnosed with appendicitis. He was scheduled to have his appendix removed the next morning at the hospital in his hometown of Carthage, Tennessee. When he arrived for surgery, a locums CRNA named Calvin Wade was there to put him to sleep because the hospital didn’t have a CRNA on staff.

“I was amazed that this man had to come from another town to give my anesthesia,” Brian recalls. “It soon became my career goal to become a nurse anesthetist and be able to take care of patients in my hometown.” Which is exactly what he did.

Brian graduated from Madison Hospital School of Anesthesia (now Middle Tennessee School of Anesthesia) in 1976. Shortly after, he was working for a group that provided anesthesia services for Carthage and other communities surrounding Nashville, and one of his CRNA colleagues was none other than Calvin Wade.

In 1987, Brian and two fellow CRNAs, Sam Oldham and Joe Williamson, formed Mid-Cumberland Anesthesia, a five-person CRNA-only group that provided permanent and temporary anesthesia services to hospitals, ASCs, and physicians’ offices in Middle Tennessee.

Fifteen years later, in 2002, Brian left the group and went to work at Vanderbilt Medical Center, eventually becoming the lead CRNA in the newly formed Ambulatory Surgery Department of Anesthesiology from 2006 to 2016. He retired from full-time work at Vanderbilt in 2018 and now works in the ambulatory surgery department part time.

“I still enjoy taking care of folks. I think I do a good job of helping patients relax prior to surgery,” he said. “I should. I’ve been giving anesthesia for 47 years now!”

A Family Affair

Brian’s son, Chris, and his daughter, Mary Case, are two years apart. Both followed in their dad’s footsteps and became CRNAs. It’s not lost on Brian that he might have made an impression on them that motivated their entry into the field. The two wound up at MTSA in the same nurse anesthesia cohort—the program’s first-ever brother/sister tandem.

Today, Chris works in the main OR at Vanderbilt, and Mary Case is the head CRNA at Sumner Regional Hospital. And his wife of 51 years, Nita, was an OR nurse until her retirement.  “Our conversations at Thanksgiving can get pretty interesting,” Brian laughs.

One of Brian’s career highlights has been the opportunity to work with—or at least in the same practice as—each of his children at various times.

Biking Cross Country

Through the early 2000s, Brian competed in triathlons, but he readily admits, “I was a good swimmer, a mediocre biker and a terrible runner.” When his knees started giving him trouble, he left the running behind and turned to biking.

His decision to retire from his full-time position at Vanderbilt in 2018 was driven, at least in part, by his desire to ride his bike cross country with a team of 43 riders—41 of whom finished the grueling feat, that included averaging 65 miles a day for 52 days—almost 3,000 miles total. He retired on a Friday and hit the rode on his bike the following Saturday.

This March Brian will return to Florida to participate in a five-year reunion of his cross-country trek; he says he can’t wait to see all the friends he made during those 52 days.

Battling Cancer

“I am so glad I took that bike ride when I did,” said Brian.  Because the last year has been a test.

In March 2022, Brian was diagnosed with an aggressive form of a rare cancer, optic melanoma, in his right eye. After radiation and laser treatments, he has had to adjust to losing 40%-45% of his vision in that eye. Even worse, in October 2022, he learned that the cancer had metastasized to his left lung, resulting in the thoracoscopic removal of roughly nine square inches—about the size of a fist—of his lung.

There’s no doubt his considerable determination and optimism have held him in good stead during trying times. He’s doing well now.

When Brian rode from San Diego to St. Augustine, he decided to start a blog and wrote about his adventures every day. Family and friends followed along at geepasc2cride.wordpress.com. (“Geepa” is what his grandkids, and even some of his coworkers, affectionately call him.)

Since then, he has used the blog as a tool to educate people about optic melanoma. His final laser treatment for his eye is scheduled for the end of January 2023, with a follow-up appointment in February to make sure he’s free of cancer in his lungs. In the meantime, Brian is beginning to look toward the future.

“I still enjoy patient care.  But sometime this year I’m probably going to quit giving anesthesia,” he said. “I’m 70 years old now, and I don’t want to work past my expiration date.”

One thing’s for sure: Brian won’t be sitting around doing nothing!

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