Ketamine in war/tropical surgery (a final tribute to the racemic mixture)

Injury. 2002 May;33(4):323-7. doi: 10.1016/s0020-1383(01)00209-1.


A technique of continuous intravenous anaesthesia with ketamine was used successfully during the Somalia civil war in 1994 and in north Uganda in 1999 for 64 operations in 62 patients, aged from 6 weeks to 70 years, undergoing limb and abdominal surgery including caesarian sections and interventions in neonates. Operations lasting up to 2h could be performed in the absence of sophisticated equipment such as pulse oximeters or ventilators in patients on spontaneous ventilation breathing air/oxygen only. After premedication with diazepam, glycopyrrolate and local anaesthesia, and induction with standard doses of ketamine, a maintenance dose of 10-20 microg/kg/min of ketamine proved safe and effective. Emphasis was placed on bedside clinical monitoring, relying heavily on the heart rate. Diazepam, unless contraindicated or risky, remains the only necessary complementary drug to ketamine as it buffers its cardiovascular response and decreases the duration and intensity of operative and postoperative hallucinations. Local anaesthetic blocks were useful in decreasing the requirement for postoperative analgesia. An antisialogue was usually unnecessary in operations lasting up to 2 h, glycopyrrolate being the best choice for its lowest psychotropic and chronotropic effects, especially in a hot climate. Experience in war/tropical settings suggests this technique could be useful in civilian contexts such as outdoor life-saving emergency surgery or in mass casualties where, e.g. amputation and rapid extrication were required.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen / surgery
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amputation, Surgical
  • Anesthesia, Intravenous / methods*
  • Anesthesia, Obstetrical / methods
  • Anesthetics, Dissociative* / adverse effects
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Cesarean Section
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developing Countries*
  • Diazepam
  • Hallucinations / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Ketamine* / adverse effects
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Premedication / methods
  • Somalia
  • Uganda
  • Warfare*


  • Anesthetics, Dissociative
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Ketamine
  • Diazepam