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What It Feels Like to Wake up During Surgery: ‘It Was Like a Nightmare’

What It Feels Like to Wake up During Surgery: 'It Was Like a Nightmare'

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Surgeons perform procedures for patients after administering general anesthesia. Patients slip into a deep sleep with little or no knowledge of the surgical procedure. On rare occasions, patients wake up during surgery. This condition is called anesthesia awareness. This condition is generally traumatic. 

What It Feels Like to Wake up During Surgery: 'It Was Like a Nightmare'

What is Anesthesia Awareness  

Anesthesia awareness is a condition where patients under general anesthesia suddenly wake up during surgery. They recall events taking place during surgery. Some patients recall their surroundings during the procedure. The term anesthesia awareness is used only when the patient becomes conscious after general anesthesia takes effect. In some cases, patients dream and think they experienced awareness while surgeons perform procedures. Patients experience the condition under local anesthesia and intravenous sedation. 


The cause of anesthesia awareness may be the administration of inadequate anesthetics. The reason for administering inadequate anesthetics may be deliberate after evaluating the needs of the patient or accidentally. The misuse or failure of equipment may cause anesthesia awareness and patients wake up during surgery. When the anesthetic administered does not work and does not sedate the patient, anesthetic awareness occurs. Some procedures require reduced anesthetics and patients become aware of the surgical procedure.


Experts have made extensive studies and have found that the chances of anesthesia awareness are rare. One in a thousand patients experience anesthesia awareness and wake up during surgery. The most recent among studies conducted by Oxford University has found that anesthesia awareness occurs in one in 19,600 cases. Surgeons in the US perform over 21 million procedures and only about 1050 patients are likely to experience anesthesia awareness. 

How does it feel? 

Patients have different experiences during anesthesia awareness. Some patients feel pain while others don’t. They are immobile suffer pain and are unable to tell their surgeons. Some patients can hear their surgeons talk while performing surgery. Some patients are aware of their surroundings and can hear their surgeons but may not feel pain. Patients suffer mental anxiety because they are unable to move and feel a sense of helplessness. In rare cases, one can move their limbs or speak to signal the inefficiency of the anesthetic.  


Anesthesia awareness is a traumatic experience for patients. Patients suffer post-traumatic stress disorders after the anesthesia awareness experience. Patients often avoid surgery for fear of possible anesthesia awareness. The psychological effects of patients can be long-lasting. Patients experience flashbacks and nightmares long after their traumatic surgical experience. In some cases, the stress caused by anesthesia awareness alters the lifestyle and behavior of patients.  
Waking up during surgery or anesthesia awareness is a traumatic condition for patients. Fortunately, the condition occurs rarely. When anesthesia awareness does occur, it can be a devastating psychological experience for patients.

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