Awake During Surgery: A Look At Anesthesia Awareness
Some patients have experienced being awake during surgery. Although this can be a terrifying and traumatic experience it is important to note that not all patients that have reported being conscious during an operation feel traumatized. Some patients simply hear conversations taking place between members of their medical team. But for others the experience can leave them with feelings of anxiety, stress, and panic. In the worst cases of anesthesia awareness patients often feel the pain of the surgery but are unable to alert anyone to their distress.
Being awake during surgery, or anesthesia awareness, as it is called among medical professionals, occurs when a patient hasn’t been given enough anesthesia to prevent consciousness during surgery. In some cases, this can lead to feelings of anxiety, panic, depression, and even PTSD.
It is estimated that anesthesia awareness occurs in about 1% – 2% of all surgeries performed in the United States each year. When it occurs about 42% of patients actually feel the pain of their surgery. About 70% also experience anxiety or panic.
One Of The Worst Cases of Anesthesia Awareness
In 2006 Sherman Sizemore was admitted to Raleigh General Hospital in Beckley, WV (which is about an hour from my home). He was having exploratory surgery to find the cause of his abdominal pain. They gave him drugs to paralyze him so his muscles wouldn’t jerk during surgery but he was not given general anesthesia to make him unconscious until 16 minutes after his abdomen had been cut into.
According to the local news, his family stated that he became severely depressed and was tormented about whether the experience and memories were real or not. He couldn’t sleep and was terrified to be alone. He also believed people were trying to bury him alive. Unfortunately he committed suicide the same year.
Most cases of anesthesia awareness aren’t this severe but even just one case of this occurring is one case to many.
Preventing Anesthesia Awareness
Hospitals have been doing as much as possible to prevent this from happening. Sometimes equipment failure causes anesthesia awareness. So all equipment should be inspected before surgery. Many hospitals are now using EEG monitors during surgery to monitor the electrical activity of the cerebral cortex, which shows the anesthesiologist the patient’s level of consciousness.
What If You Experience Anesthesia Awareness?
According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists if you think you may have experienced some degree of consciousness during surgery you should talk to your anesthesiologist as soon as possible. They should be able to explain the events that took place and why you may have been more aware at certain times. If you had pain or anxiety during the surgery you should seek counseling as soon as possible. Early counseling is vital to help alleviate the feelings of confusion, stress, and trauma.
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