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Traumatic Experience of Waking Up During Surgery Explained

Waking up during surgery can be a traumatic experience, the effects of which extend for years. Patients put to sleep with general anaesthetics happened to wake up while the operation is ongoing later suffer from PTSD. Five minutes of consciousness as the surgeons are manipulating their ways into the body of the patient are enough to taint his psychology.


A new study published in the journal Anesthesia has put into perspective the negative side of numbing patients with anaesthetics for surgery: those who happen to wake up during surgery can be marked for life because of the traumatic experience. Fortunately, waking up under anaesthesia is rare. But, if it does happen, the patients go through several minutes of terror that have prolonged effects.

The negative effects are mostly psychological in nature. The time span that the person remains conscious once he is woken up is limited to a few minutes, in most cases, not more than five minutes. However, this is enough to trigger long-term trauma.

A patient who woke up during her surgery in an incident that occurred back in 1998, Carol Weihrer, attested that the experience was more than just unpleasant and shocking.

“I could hear the surgeon telling his trainee to ‘cut deeper into the eye.’ I was screaming, but no one could hear me. I felt no pain, just a tugging sensation. I tried to move my toes or even push myself off the operating table, but I couldn’t move. I thought I was dying.”

As her words might indicate, she suffered tremendously after the surgery – the health condition is termed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For the last 16 years, she has had flashbacks of the day of her surgery. She has visions of the operating table. This causes her to be physically agitated. To deal with the situation, she sleeps in a recliner because sleeping in a flat position triggers the nightmarish flashbacks.

The researchers of the study explained that the patients feel paralysed, adding that “paralysis is terrifying and has never been experienced by most people.” While in surgery, with the effects of the anaesthetics, the patients are unable to move. because in some cases, paralytics are part of the anaesthetic substance; for instance, general anaesthesia involves a combination of drugs that might include substance that induce ‘paralysis’ so that the surgeons can carry out the operation on otherwise inaccessible parts of the body. Unfortunately, this very type of anaesthetic might entail waking up during the surgery. The same can be said for light anaesthetics.


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