Carol was under anesthesia during an eye operation when she woke up, suddenly, hearing the orders, “Cut deeper, pull harder” and felt pressure, but no pain. Due to her anesthesia and a muscle relaxant, she was unable to communicate or move her body. She was unable to signal to the doctors, in the operating room, that she was awake. After having a successful surgery, Carol suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the anesthesia complication and takes medication, in an attempt, to get past her terrifying surgical experience.
Going under the knife, for even the simplest of procedures, can be stressful and scary. Even when you wholeheartedly trust your medical professional, it’s hard to avoid and ignore the “what ifs”. According to the Mayo Health Clinic, Carol experienced “Anesthesia Awareness” and unfortunately, she is not alone.
Anesthesia Awareness: A Real-Life Nightmare
Does waking up during surgery sound like a horror film? In the film, Awake, a man experiences Anesthesia Awareness and is able to feel, hear, and see everything while undergoing surgery, but is unable to communicate that he is awake. One of the film’s producers was quoted as saying, about the film released in 2007 that it “will do to surgery what Jaws did to swimming in the ocean.”
Anesthesia Awareness, also known as unintended inoperative awareness, affects about 1 or 2 patients, in every 1,000, who are given general anesthesia during a surgical procedure. When a patient experiences Anesthesia Awareness, he/she may wake up, for a brief period of time, while receiving general anesthesia. In most cases, the patient is aware of his/her surroundings, but does not feel any pain during the procedure. In some cases, however, the anesthesia may be ineffective, leaving a patient to suffer from excruciating pain. When such cases, like Carol’s occur, the patient may be unable to communicate (verbally or non-verbally) due to the muscle relaxants administered before the surgery.
No one can truly understand the real-life nightmare of waking up during a surgery until he/she has experienced such a horrifying ordeal. Many patients, who have fallen victim to a medical malpractice, like Anesthesia Awareness, are left with long-term psychological problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
When General Anesthesia Fails
If you have ever gone under the knife, an anesthesiologist probably asked you to countdown from 100 and before you knew it (which seemed like a mere minute or two later) you were awake, resting in recovery, and according to Professor of Anesthesia, Emery Brown, that’s how general anesthesia is supposed to work. Dr. Brown states that general anesthesia is designed to put patients into a coma that can be easily reversed after the surgery is completed. The patient should be unconscious, should not experience any pain during the procedure, should not remember anything about the procedure, and should not be able to move. In some cases, such as emergency operations, general anesthesia doesn’t work the same for every patient and Anesthesia Awareness occurs. Factors that may be responsible for Anesthesia Awareness include, but are not limited to, heart or lung problems, daily alcohol use, low doses of anesthesia, and errors made by an anesthesiologist.
Survived the Surgery but not the Nightmare
Sherman Sizemore’s daughters sued Raleigh Anesthesia Associates after their father committed suicide a few short weeks after his surgery. Sizemore was given anesthesia while undergoing exploratory surgery for abdominal pain. According to his family, Sizemore was given drugs to keep his muscles from jerking and twitching during the surgery, but was not given a general anesthesia until 16 minutes after the first incision was made into his abdomen. Sizemore, who suffered from excruciating pain, was unable to differentiate if his horrifying experience was real or just an unconscious nightmare. Being unable to recover from the psychological distress of the operation, Sizemore ended his life within weeks of the surgery.
Anesthesia complications affect a patient’s mental and physical well-being. Waking up during a surgery is not normal and should not be treated as such. Carol, the woman who was victim to Anesthesia Awareness during an eye operation, believes that victims and/or the family and friends of the patient deserve compensation for the medical malpractice. “The reason people sue is because they want to be acknowledged,” Carol says, “They don’t want to be told ‘You weren’t awake; it was a dream.’”
The next time you go under the knife, will you come out okay or will be stuck in a terrifying yet all too real nightmare?