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Waking Up During Surgery: A Nightmarish Reality

A guest post written by Susan Jacobs*

A recent study conducted by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has indicated that we are no closer to preventing patients from waking up during surgery. Despite the use of modern brain-wave monitors that supposedly detect if a patient is conscious during surgery, the problem is still there. In fact, it has been widely reported that approximately 30,000 Americans waking during surgery each year.

In many cases, patients wake during surgery, but without the ability to scream out or move their body. One would be hard-pressed to imagine a more nightmarish situation. Not only is the patient aware of what is going on, it is possible to feel the full extent of the pain and not be able to react. The question remains, why is this still occurring at such an alarming rate in the 21st century?

“Anesthesia awareness,” as it is being called, occurs in 1 to 2 patients out of every 1,000. What is even more alarming is that children are more susceptible to waking during surgery, which could certainly cause long-term emotional trauma.

Naturally, this growing problem has resulted in many medical malpractice lawsuits. In 2007, a 73-year-old man filed a lawsuit after experiencing anesthesia awareness during abdominal surgery. Doctors made a mistake and he was not given general anesthesia until 16 minutes after the surgeon made the first cut. The patient had been given paralyzing medication before the anesthesia, so he could not cry out in pain.

Anesthesia Awareness Campaign Inc. is a non-profit group that was founded by Carol Weihrer. Weihrer experienced anesthesia awareness during eye surgery over a decade ago. It is the mission of this group to bring attention to the terrifying occurrence, as well as to seek a way to prevent it from happening to another person.

Victims of anesthesia awareness are haunted for years after their ordeal. In fact, a 2002 study in Sweden followed a group of victims after they reported their experience. 4 out of 9 patients were not only troubled; they were severely disabled psychologically. Hopefully, this recent study will garner enough media attention for the public to demand more preventative measures in the operating room.

* Susan Jacobs is a teacher, a freelance writer as well as a regular contributor for NOEDb, a site helping students obtain an online nursing degree. Susan invites your questions, comments and freelancing job inquiries at her email address susan.jacobs45@gmail.com .