WHAT IS ANESTHESIA AWARENESS?
Anesthesia Awareness, or intra-operative awareness, is perhaps the most helpless and terrifying feeling in the world. It occurs when one is supposed to be completely asleep under full general anesthesia, but the brain is not asleep. Usually your body is paralyzed; you have a tube down your throat; you can't speak or move to alert the doctors that you are awake. If you do manage to move, as I did, the usual response from the anesthesiologist is to simply administer another dose or doses of paralytic drug; not considering the possibility that the patient is awake.
I'VE NEVER HEARD OF ANESTHESIA AWARENESS. WHY NOT?
It's one of the best-kept secrets in anesthesia, and one of the least-known phenomena in the medical or legal fields in general, yet recent studies indicate awareness is reported 100 times per working day, and we know that under-reportage may be as much as a third. Pediatric cases may occur 4-6 times as often. Those figures work out to 20,000 - 40,000 times per year! The anesthesia community is in deep denial of the number of times intra-operative happens, denies patient reports of the problem, fails to make the occurrence known to the surgeon or other hospital caretakers, and grossly underestimates extent and the length of the after-effects of anesthesia awareness.
WHAT CAUSES ANESTHESIA AWARENESS?
In my opinion, the most prevalent cause of anesthesia awareness is lack of care and attention on the part of the anesthesiologist. In a 1999 syndicated radio interview the President of the American Society of Anesthesiologists admitted that "drugs are sometimes mislabeled or administered in the wrong order, and tanks do run dry."
Patients seldom get to meet their anesthesiologist more than five minutes before surgery; they have no choice of doctors or any chance to check out credentials or even know whether the person administering anesthesia is an M.D. or nurse anesthetist; or whether he/she will be monitoring only your surgery, or several other surgeries at the same time. Patients are rarely told whether they will be paralyzed, or if and what type of monitors will be used to determine the level of consciousness of the patient.