In a very small fraction of medical procedures, about one or two in every 1,000, patients experience a phenomenon called anesthesia awareness in which they essentially wake up during the procedure and become aware of their surroundings, despite being anesthetized. In some cases, patients are not able to explain what is happening to the surgeon.
Although patients very rarely experience any pain during anesthesia awareness, waking up to see yourself covered in blood or different internal parts of your body exposed in a stark operating room can be a jarring or even traumatic. People who have experienced anesthesia awareness report a wide range of details; some recall specific events that took place during the surgery, while others recall feelings of pressure or other conscious thoughts they had during sedation.
Procedures at Higher Risk of Causing Anesthesia Awareness
Anesthesia awareness generally occurs due to the patient receiving less than an optimal dose of anesthesia. Every individual is different and two people with similar physical proportions may require different size doses of anesthesia for the same procedure. While most physician anesthesiologists take individual medical issues and overall health into account when administering doses of anesthesia in different forms, unexpected and some unexplainable elements cause patients to wake up or regain some level of consciousness during surgery.
When a person wakes up from anesthesia, the effect is not the same as waking up normally. He or she is still under the influence of powerful medication and this can lead to confusion, feelings of distress, or anxiety. Additionally, the patient will likely remain unable to move. The feeling of paralysis can be traumatic in any circumstance, and during anesthesia awareness it couples with the confusion of waking up from a heavy dose of sedatives. It is easy to see how these experiences can be very traumatizing for some individuals.
Anesthesia awareness is more common during procedures that require alternative forms of anesthesia, or when physicians cannot administer the typical form and dose of anesthesia to the patient. Intravenous or twilight anesthesia is common for less invasive procedures like biopsies, dental surgeries, and colonoscopies. Doctors cannot administer usual forms of anesthesia for emergency C-sections and certain types of heart surgeries and may require local or regional anesthesia instead, and these forms are more likely to cause varying levels of awareness.
Reducing the Risk of Anesthesia Awareness
Patients who do not receive general anesthesia are generally more likely to experience anesthesia awareness, which physicians expect, to a degree. For example, a patient may only require local anesthesia for an extremity wound, so awareness is normal in this situation. Anesthesia awareness experiences are far more profound and traumatic when they occur with general anesthesia.
Patients should communicate all their medical information with a surgical team prior to surgery, including existing prescriptions and over-the-counter medications the patient uses. The patient must also disclose drug and alcohol usage habits, any history of prior surgeries, and any episodes of previous anesthesia awareness. In non-emergencies when surgery preparation is possible, patients should ask their doctor about any concerns about a proposed surgical procedure.
Can You Take Legal Action for Anesthesia Awareness?
Anesthesia awareness can occur even when surgical teams follow their procedures perfectly and administer an appropriate dose of anesthesia to a patient. However, if a patient experiences a traumatic episode of anesthesia awareness due to an anesthesiologist’s failure to administer an appropriate form and/or dose of anesthesia, or the surgeon failed to account for a known preexisting condition, or some other negligent error caused the patient’s awareness, then the patient could have grounds for a medical malpractice claim for emotional damages against the responsible parties. For more information, speak with a knowledgable medical malpractice lawyer in West Virginia.