In this article, a West Virginia family has filed a lawsuit after their father had exploratory surgery for abdominal pain. The man was given drugs to paralyze his muscles, but was not given general anesthesia until 16 minutes after the first cut into his abdomen. The man committed suicide two weeks after the surgery, two weeks in which he did not want to be left alone, suffered nightmares and was convinced people were trying to bury him alive.

According to the Anesthesia Awareness website, anesthesia awareness is the phenomenon of being mentally alert (and terrified) while supposedly under full general anesthesia. The patient is paralyzed, unable to speak, and totally helpless to communicate his/her awareness. Actual cutting pain may or may not be present.

While it is not common, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations says that anesthesia awareness happens in 0.1 percent or 0.2 percent of operations involving general anesthesia in this country. Half of those patients report mental distress and even post traumatic stress disorder after the surgery.

In 2005 the American Society of Anesthesiologists adopted guidelines to prevent this occurrence, including a checklist to make sure that anesthesia is delivered properly and that these cases no longer happen. West Virginia University School of Medicine uses brain monitors as well as blood pressure monitors and other equipment to measure things such as body temperature. The chances of anesthesia awareness are slim when appropriate monitoring equipment is used.

If you are going to have surgery, maybe you should ask your anesthesiologist and surgeon how you will be monitored during the surgery. Make sure that they will be checking and that you will not be added to those patient who have suffered anesthesia awareness.

Bo Frith