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Can waking up during surgery be traumatizing?

The act of opening up a person during an operation is a major reason why many patients do not want to be aware of their own operations as they occur. Fortunately, general anesthesia is enough to keep a person sedated while the surgery is in progress, sparing them from any disturbing sights and sounds. However, a report from New York’s WLNY station revealed that some patients do wake up during surgery with traumatizing results.

The act of waking up after being sedated is known as anesthesia awareness. While only two out of every one thousand patients are reported with instances of anesthesia awareness, the experience is frightening. Patients report instances of waking up and feeling sensations of being poked and prodded on the operating table. At times the patient may see and hear the surgeons and doctors as they work. The doctors may even notice the patient is awake but do not try to sedate the patient again for fear the added anesthesia may be dangerous to the patient's health.

The aftermath of waking up during an operation can include traumatic effects. A patient may experience flashbacks to the surgery. Nightmares and depression can also result. A person may feel so traumatized by the experience that he or she may never want to undergo an operation again unless it is to save his or her life or is an absolute emergency.

So what are the most likely scenarios for someone waking up during surgery? The WLNY report cites Dr. Kiran Patel, who claims certain procedures are more prone to incidents of anesthesia awareness. Many of these incidents involve surgeries that are undertaken under emergency or stressful conditions, such as a person who has suffered a traumatic event or a woman who needs a Cesarean section that is very risky. Other procedures like cardiac operations can increase the chance for anesthesia awareness.

In the event a person is about to have a risky surgical procedure, or even if the person just has a general fear of waking up during surgery, discussing it beforehand with a doctor can be beneficial. Talking about the possibility of anesthesia awareness may reduce the possible trauma that can occur from waking up prematurely during an operation.  

Please be aware that this article is not intended to provide you with legal advice and is written solely for the reader’s understanding of anesthesia awareness.

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