Nightmare Scenario: Anesthesia Awareness
It happens to about 1 in 1,000 patients – waking up during surgical procedures terrified, confused and in pain. Anesthesia awareness is such a frightening concept, that it was the plot to the 2007 horror film, Awake. Imagine undergoing surgery for a cardiac procedure, only to wake up and experience doctors operating on your heart. For many victims of anesthesia awareness, post-traumatic stress disorder can cause nightmares for years after surgical procedures occurred.
A woman who experienced anesthesia awareness while undergoing an eye removal surgery shared her story with CNN. The woman described wanting to scream and signal doctors she was awake but anesthetics prevented her from moving. Her surgery lasted for almost six hours, and throughout the event, she questioned whether she had died and gone to Hell. After the anesthetic wore off, the woman was heard frantically screaming, “I was awake! I was awake!”
In another case of anesthesia awareness, a woman undergoing surgery almost died from shock. Surgeons were performing a procedure on her stomach when she awoke halfway through the surgery. Doctors had miscalculated her dose of anesthetics to a level where she was awake but unable to move. After 15 minutes of enduring pure torture, she went into cardiac arrest from shock. An injection of adrenaline restarted her heart just in time to save her life.
Why Does Anesthesia Awareness Happen?
So how and why can patients wake up during surgeries? In many cases, equipment failure and medical negligence are to blame. However, research into anesthesia awareness is still ongoing. Anesthetics depress central nervous system activity, and patients with histories of drug and alcohol problems might be at higher risk for waking up during surgical procedures.
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