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Surgery and Still Awake

Updated on October 16, 2014

Anesthesia and Surgery

For those of you who never had surgery, the thought of awakening during the procedure is horrifying.

More than 30,000 people a year live that nightmare under the cloud of anesthesia.

The anesthetized patient on the operating table is immobilized to prevent movement during surgery, but nobody on the medical team knows that behind those eyes taped shut is a mind that is still awake. Every word is heard, every cut is felt.

Case Studies

One case study in this surgical blunder is Carol Weihrer, she was alert but paralyzed when doctors removed her right eye. She tried to speak "I am awake" when she heard them say, 'You have to cut deeper' and 'pull harder she could not make a noise during her painful surgery. She felt them moving a breathing tube in her throat. She listened to them discuss how long it would take to fix a broken piece of equipment.

There are approximately 21 million people a year that are anesthetized so the reported cases are small. but not if you are one of the 1% awake.

A patient might wake up during surgery from mechanical failure to human error such as miscalculating drug dosage. Doctors try to strike a balance between too little anesthesia and too much. It's some science and a bit more art. The job of the anesthesiologist is balance, each surgery, each patient is different and the formula used is for the "Average" patient, not everybody is average.

Here are a few more stories::

  • Kelly Haapala - awoke during hip surgery after a car crash, the brief says. "Slowly the pain began to surface. I kept telling myself it must be a nightmare but the pain was so unbearably severe that I began to worry that my body would not be able to withstand this stress and pain and that I would die! It was as if a hot poker was being jammed into me."
  • Diana Todd - awoke during hysterectomy surgery. "I was awake, aware, paralyzed, utterly terrified, unable to do anything about it no matter how hard I tried, and I wished I could die. I remember thinking, 'Take me now, please take me.' This was the most traumatizing experience of my life. It takes away your basic humanity. That kind of terror is cruel beyond description. There is simply no way to adequately describe what it is like to have every single scrap of your own self control stripped away."

Anesthesia is really a word to describe a state of unconsciousness. The three components of anesthesia are analgesia (pain relief), amnesia (loss of memory) and immobilization. It was described as being put to sleep then being brought back to life.

Further studies show a greater incidence of "anesthesia awareness" in children, when compared to adults. Children over the age of one year has already been proven more susceptible to "anesthesia awareness," in younger patients the monitor is unreliable.

Surgery Awareness

A international trial has proved that an "awareness" device, called a BIS monitor, can cut the number of cases of awareness during surgery by 80 per cent.

Paul Myles of Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, and Kate Leslie of Royal Melbourne Hospital ran the trial. The evidence is so compelling that BIS monitoring should always be used during the 5 per cent or so of operations where there is a high risk of awareness. It should also be used for the 50 per cent of operations where there is a chance of awareness occurring.

Usage and Approval of BIS Monitors

The BIS monitor is used in nearly 3,000 hospitals and 400 surgical centers, according to the manufacturer, Aspect Medical Systems. That's about 60% of all U.S. operating rooms.

Some hospitals balk at the cost of the monitor — $5,000 to $9,000, depending on how many are purchased. Some doctors still object because the monitor is imperfect. The US Food and Drug Administration approved BIS monitoring in 1996.

So if you ever have to go through a surgery using anesthesia, don't hesitate to discuss the BIS monitor.

Here is the link to BIS - there's more information and if your hospital doesn't use this device then possibly BIS (Aspect Medical) can help you find one in your area.

For more article on health, visit the Health Hub.


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    • rb11 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Las Vegas

      Ripplemaker thanks for the comment. Yes, with overburdened hospitals and staff that's fatigued it's no wonder we don't hear more stories of this nature.


    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Hi rb, that is so scary. Also, that is why it is also important for doctors, nurses and whoever is assisting in the OR shouldn't be talking "bad" or making jokes about the patient. If the patient can hear,that too would be awful! But of course, the most terrible thing would be the ones you described/shared above. That must have been very traumatic for them.

    • rb11 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks again, I'll have to be unconscious for them to get me on the table. Just a personal choice.


    • profile image

      Useful Knowledge 

      9 years ago

      I remember watching a show on Discovery Health Channel about this.

      I had to have a hysterectomy about 6 months ago. I was so terrified that this would happen to me. Although we have come a long way with medical technology, there are still flaws in the system.

      Wonderful Hub! It is very informative.

    • rb11 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Las Vegas

      The fault is with the medical system....

    • guidebaba profile image


      10 years ago from India

      Excellent Job. I just can't find any fault.


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