More than 21 million patients in North America receive general anesthesia each year, and thanks to increasing knowledge and sophisticated technology, the vast majority of anesthetic procedures are uneventful. However, a rare but serious adverse event is the explicit recall of sensory perceptions during general anesthesia, termed “awareness” or “intraoperative awareness.”

The New England Journal of Medicine reports the incidence of awareness may be as high as 1 or 2 for every 1000 patients, possibly higher among children. Do the math and you should be shocked to learn that about 20,000 to 30,000 operative patients each year experience wakefulness during their surgery! Awareness occurs more frequently among patients who have received neuromuscular-blocking drugs, who cannot signal to the medical team that they are conscious.

I don’t know the answer but these numbers are too high to be acceptable! I cannot imagine the pain and anxiety a surgery patient must experience when he/she is awake during surgery and experiencing every cut and pull but is unable to alert the surgeon to the pain.

Dan Frith
Dan Frith

Dan Frith has over 25 years of experience representing individuals and families in cases of medical malpractice throughout Virginia. He has been named "Best Medical Malpractice Attorney" by Roanoker Magazine and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. To speak with Dan, contact him by email at