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Why Waking Up During Surgery Can Be Traumatic

  • On Behalf Of Colton Holm
  • Published: February 8, 2018

Surgery can be a frightening experience for many people in Montana. Not only do individuals fear the pain that comes with being operated on, but the sight of the body being opened up can be shocking. Qualified surgeons will properly anesthetize you depending on the needs of the surgery, even inducing temporary unconsciousness so that you do not feel pain or witness the surgery as it occurs. If the anesthesia is improperly administered, however, you may end up waking up sooner than you should.

The John Hopkins Hospital website describes several different forms of anesthesia. Not all involve putting a patient to sleep during surgery. With local anesthesia, only a specific area of the body, the area that will be operated on, is anesthetized. Regional anesthesia removes sensation for larger parts or a whole portion of a person’s body. However, in these cases the patient is awake for surgery and is able to communicate, though the patient does not feel pain in the area being operated on.

General anesthesia is a different story. Thanks to anesthetic gases or medication administered through an IV, a patient is rendered unconscious for a temporary period of time. This helps ensure that a person does not feel pain while being operated on or bear witness to the actual surgery. This is particularly helpful when a person’s insides are exposed, a sight many people are not ready for.

However, if not enough anesthesia is administered, a person may wake up before the surgery is finished. According to a piece run in the Smithsonian, people who wake up during surgery may experience all sorts of uncomfortable, even terrifying sensations. These include feeling fingers probing inside them or their innards being tugged on, or smelling the cauterization of flesh. And because patients have other sedatives inside them that prevent muscle movement, it may not be possible to signal doctors that they are awake unless their eyes are open.

The consequences of anesthesia error are real. The Smithsonian piece describes patients who prematurely woke up during surgery as suffering from long lasting traumatic effects, even comparing them to PTSD. Even if the patient experienced no pain during the period of arousal, the experience of being awake during surgery was scarring.

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