Why you could wake up during surgery

Imagine waking up in the operating room – while you are being operated on.

“Awareness during anesthesia” occurs when a patient is conscious during a surgery and can recall the incident after, Henry Ford Hospital reported.

This can happen due to equipment malfunction, or because patients who have high metabolism  break down the anesthesia medications faster than usual. Individuals undergoing certain surgeries may be at a higher risk, said Dr. Morris Brown, chair of anesthesiology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Mich.

“There is a real balance that has to be reached with critically ill patients who come to the operating room for emergency surgeries, trauma surgeries, patients undergoing a cardiac surgery or cesarean sections,” Brown said. “Those would be the kinds of patients that would be at particularly high risk.”

The balance between giving enough anesthesia and preserving vital organs makes these cases particularly complex. The anesthesiologist’s goal is to provide a pain and stress-free surgery for the patient.

“If they were to become aware and have recall under anesthesia, it can have devastating consequences with full-blow post-traumatic stress disorder,” Brown added.

Waking up during surgery can be one of the biggest fears for patients – and although it can be a crucial problem – it doesn’t happen often.

“Fortunately, it’s a rare occurrence,” Brown said. “It occurs anywhere from 0.1 percent to as high as maybe 0.6 percent, but normally it’s reported about 0.1 to 0.2 percent of anesthetics, general anesthetics.”