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What causes some people to wake up during surgery?

On Behalf of | Apr 30, 2021 | Medical Malpractice |

One of the biggest fears that many people have before undergoing surgery if they’ll be receiving general anesthesia is that it will wear off before their surgeon completes their operation. It may be reassuring to know that waking up during surgery, a process that is known as “anesthesia awareness,” is very rare. 

When anesthesia awareness does occur, it’s typically not physically painful. However, it can be extremely traumatic. That trauma can stay with a person for years.

One patient’s experience

One woman described her experience of waking up during eye surgery. She said, “I was awake but paralyzed….I was screaming, but no one could hear me. I felt no pain, just a tugging sensation….I thought I was dying.”

The woman said that 16 years after that event, she still had to sleep in a recliner. She explained, “If I lie flat, I get flashbacks of the operating table, and I start violently thrashing.”

Who is most likely to experience anesthesia awareness?

It can happen if an anesthesiologist isn’t able to give a patient the recommended amount of anesthesia. This can occur in an emergency when it’s necessary to get a patient into surgery immediately. Drug and alcohol abuse and some medical conditions can make a person more likely to wake up during surgery. 

That’s why it’s essential that the anesthesiologist has complete and accurate information about a patient’s medical history and any medications (legal, illegal, prescription and over-the-counter) as well as supplements that they’re taking. It’s also essential for patients to notify their anesthesiologist of any experience they’ve had with anesthesia wearing off too soon or any other more generalized concerns that they have about it.

Of course, if general anesthesia (or any type of anesthesia) doesn’t work as intended, it’s possible that the anesthesiologist made an error in choosing, formulating or administering it. If you or a loved one has suffered harm from an experience with anesthesia, then an attorney can help. Your lawyer will want to determine whether the problem resulted from medical negligence or error. If they find that it did, then they’ll advise you what your legal options are in your case.