Anesthesia Awareness


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   At some point or another
   in our lives, we have all
   been through a surgical
   operation.  You know the
   usual procedure-- the
   surgeon ties a latex glove
   around your arm to cut
   off the circulation.  Then,
   they inject you with
   anesthesia so you can't
   feel anything for the
   entire operation, which is
   how it should be.  While
   surfing YouTube, I
   came across something  
which honestly freaked me out immensely.  The film, Awake, addresses a state called anesthesia awareness, in which patients are not administered enough anesthesia.  In this way, they can feel the entire operation being carried out.  This is true in the case of Carol Weiher, who was having surgery to have one of her eyes removed in 1998.  She attempted to alert the doctors that she was still awake, but because of the anesthesia which relaxes the muscles, she was helpless.  "I was doing a combination of praying and pleading and cursing and screaming, and trying anything I could do but I knew that there was nothing that was working," said Weiher, of Reston, Virginia.  In a situation like that, what do you do?  Is there no way for the surgeons to comprehend that they didn't give you enough anesthesia?

According to the Mayo Clinic, about one or two people in every 1,000 may wake up during general anesthesia.  The majority of these instances only include the patient being aware of their surroundings.  However, in other cases, "some experience severe pain and go on to have psychological problems."  Weiher was awake for an operation that lasted five and a half hours, and passed out or became unconscious due to pain caused by a drug injected into her system.  The usage of anesthesia is different from sleep in that during sleep, the brain is fully active.  With anesthesia, there is less brain activity and not as much of an oxygen flow to the brain as during sleep.

Doctors have seriously looked into this problem, but don't understand how it happens. According to Dr. Hannenberg of Massachusetts, anesthesia awareness may relate to human error or equipment failure in delivering the anesthetic.  Some doctors actually have to use a low dosage of anesthesia because the side effects of using a large dosage on patients in serious conditions could be dangerous.  According to the Mayo Clinic, factors which could put patients at a higher risk for anesthesia awareness would be heart or lung problems, daily alcohol consumption, and long-term use of opiates and other drugs.

One solution to this problem of not receiving ample anesthesia would be to use brain function monitors, which would guarantee that the patient obtains the proper dosage.  Dr. Barry Friedberg explains that the scale of these monitors ranges from 0 to 100.  A 0 indicates that there is no brain activity occurring at all, and 98 - 100 implies the patient is wide awake.  So, 45 - 60 is the desired range of where the patient's brain activity needs to be.  This all sounded effective until I read that there was "no benefit in using brain function monitoring to prevent anesthesia awareness," as concluded by a study performed in 2008 in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Unfortunately there are consequences of using general anesthesia as well because it can lead to stroke, heart attack, and death.  Weiher had long-term problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, because of anesthesia awareness. 

Here's the trailer of the movie:



I'm not sure if any of you have experienced this at all.  I know I haven't, but it sounds absolutely frightening to endure.  What are your opinions on this subject?   

1 Comment

This sounds absolutely awful. I searched for some theories from doctors about why some people wake up under anesthesia. The only thing I could find is that they think it may have to do with genetics. I found that response on multiple sites, by multiple doctors with no evidence to back it up at all. All I can say is that I would hate to be in the .1%.

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