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Anesthesia Awareness: Waking Up During Surgery

Imagine this scary scenario: you're in the middle of a surgery when you suddenly wake up as the surgeons cut you open - you're aware (and terrified) but cannot communicate with the doctors.

Fiction? No, that's a condition called Anesthesia Awareness and it happened to this woman:

During surgery to remove a damaged right eye, Carol Weihrer woke up.

"I was totally awake and aware," she says, "but completely unable to communicate or move in any way at all. …I heard the surgeon telling the resident to cut deeper and pull harder."

Link | Carol's website Anesthesia Awareness

This happened to me. I was having surgery on my foot and I woke up. I recall trying to communicate the intense pain I was feeling at the time (to date, still the worst pain I have ever felt) and being completely unable to do so. After an unbearable few minutes I recall finally making a noise of some sort and then going back under as the docs realized what happened.
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It also happened to me, I did not wake up during the operation, but only minutes afterwards, I felt I couldn't breath and started to panic. As a result, I caused myself a deep and long cut in the chest with a needle, and I wear a big scar since.
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I saw that on TV...might have been the same woman...but anesthesia has different components to it. One of them is making you lose conciousness. I'm not too sure of that since it was a long ago I watched that. Can anyone clarify that?
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# but anesthesia has different components to it. One of them is making you lose conciousness. I’m not too sure of that since it was a long ago I watched that. Can anyone clarify that?

There are usually two components. One for getting rid of pain and one for getting rid of either conciousness (general anesthesia) or sensitivity to touch (local anesthesia).

For my wife's c-section, they didn't put her under, only did local anesthesia. The anti-pain portion was completely effective, she didn't hurt at all, but the anti-feeling part was only partial, I think on purpose, and she could feel them tugging and pulling on her to get the baby out.
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I had a back surgery 10 years ago. I remember vaguely they brought me to partway during the surgery to ask me to move my toes to make sure they weren't doing any damage. There was no pain, Just awareness. I know that they have to weigh you to be very sure they are giving you the perfect amount of anesthesia. I was told by my doctor that while under, you are at a perfect balance between life and death, as crazy as that sounds. Too much and you die, too little and you are awake during the procedure. It's absolutely necessary for the doctors to know all of you medical conditions and how you metabolize medicine. All factors tie in to help them determine how much to give you to operate effectively and safely.
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I have had 5 surgerys.I have always feared this happening but I was lucky.I dont even remember going under its so fast your gone so fast BOOM lights out.
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Okay, guys, let's put an end to all the sensationalism surrounding this topic. First of all, anesthesia awareness is possible, but extremely rare. There are several high risk situations during which it would be more likely than usual: open heart procedures, emergency c-sections under general anesthesia, and acute trauma during which the patient is hemodynamically unstable. Outside of these cases, the true incidence is about 1 in 40,000 cases of general anesthesia.
A few comments about some posting above:
Ruby, you had a "wake up" test. This was likely a planned situation and you should have been coached about it beforehand. This is not unintentional anesthesia awareness.
Demonio Flatline, you had persistent neuromuscular weakness from a paralytic agent. This is not anesthesia awareness.
Bob, your wife had a regional anesthetic (spinal or epidural). Pressure and pulling is normal and expected.
Everyone, if you have sedation or regional anesthesia, you will be aware. This is normal. If you have had procedural sedation for wisdom teeth extraction or colonscopy, you were not under general anesthesia and awareness is normal.
Ask questions before your procedure and don't believe everything you hear on Dateline.
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I just watched "Awake", a movie that just came out about anethesia awareness and the same situation occured with me. I was stabbed in the heart lung and spleen and had to be operated on. i was intoxicated at the time so i think that it must have had some effect on the anesthesia, it's crazy though i was basically paralyzed but i could hear everything (people talking) and feel everything i can't remember the pain so much anymore because it was so long ago but at the time of the operation it seemed like the worst pain imaginable i first felt the scalple then heard the saw and felt the saw cut into my sternum i think i finally passed out or "went under" from either the pain or anxiety of the whole situation i do remember the pressure from the saw it was unbelievable i can also remember screaming for them to stop and wanting to die. anyway sorry for the scary story it was just weird watching this movie because it was so exact to what i felt and what happened to me. i guess my question would be does this happen more commonly with open heart surgeries and does alcohol or the fact that i had shots of adrenaline before the anesthesia mean anything? Also does this happen mostly in trauma cases because everything is unplanned? it sounds like the person above me answered my question -oops!
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I just had a double heria surgery done on Friday . IThis is the first time I have ever been put under . I have put off my surgery for yrs. because my bro in law was an nurse anestisist and would steal the patients morphine . Long story short I woke up during my procedure ., pulled my tubes out and screamed " im Fnnn Dying ". I am soooo bruised and in pain . I dont know if I should sue or what ? None of the staff told my family what happened , so its all on me . Any advice would be greatly appreciated .
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Hi! I have been put under 9 times. 8 of those were for surgeries. I can answer the what does it feel like just go to sleep, and NOTHING! It happens fast too. I did wake up during my last surgery. I was bleeding out from a rip in a blood vessel from a surgery 3 days earlier, and during the repair surgery I woke up to find hard tubes down my throat, but not long enough to feel pain. As soon as the staff realized I woke up, Boom back asleep! Not the best memory in the world but not the worst either, just different. I also probably woke up enough to hear the surgeon on another surgery, cause I "knew" just how long it took before they even told me after surgery. Or I died momentarily and then came back. Either way, it was not scary.
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Hey all, I just had an appendectomy last week, and this happened to me. I am still unsure of what part of the surgery I actually woke up in. I awoke from a terrible dream (one where I thought I was dying) to not being able to move anything (because of the paralysis medicine they inject). Needless to say, I absolutely freaked. I couldn't even open my eyes. All I could hear was the anesthesiologist and the nurses talking. I still had the chest tube in my throat so I felt like I couldn't breathe and my arms and legs were still strapped to the operating table. After a few minutes, I was able to twitch my head. I heard the nurse say "Oh my gosh, I have never seen anyone twitch like this, look at her pulse!" I heard the machines beeping as my pulse raised, I guess they figured out what happened and put me back under because the next time I woke up again was in the recovery room with a very swollen lip and scratched up throat. I'm guessing it's from the twitching of my head with the chest tube still in. It was probably one of the scariest things I've experienced, every night since the surgery I have had some kind of bad dream. I'm hoping this will end soon.

Just make sure you know your anesthesiologist!
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Omg!! That's so scary!! Ahh can anyone tell me if that happens with breast augmentations? If so, how often? I really want to get breast implants but I'm so scared that this might happen to me. I'm so claustrophobic, and even when I wake up in my room and can't speak because of a certain sickness I freak out like crazy, and have panic attacks...Someone help me please.
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About 25 years ago, my father went for surgery to have a tumor removed from his neck. He too awoke during surgery. He could hear them yelling "We're losing him!!!" He said it was so horrible to not be able to twitch a finger or anything to let them know he was aware. And the tube down the throat was worse - not being able to breathe on his own. He said when he awoke he had never been so frightened in all his life and thought he was going crazy. He never said a word to anyone for a few days but finally asked his doctor about it. Dad said he wouldn't wish that on his worst enemy! He had a total of 18 surgeries in a 23 year span and this was the one and only time it happened...thank goodness.
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it happened to me just yesterday. i got my wisdom teeth pulled and the experience wwas just horrific. first, when the nurse was situating my IV , it apparently slipped. the monitor was beating fast and they wouldn't even tell me what was going on until it was fixed and the monitor was back to normal. then, i woke up during the procedure. i remember being awake and seeing what was going on but the voices sounded like they were so far. i could hear the instruments and feel the discomfort of it, but it wasn't necessarily pain. i couldn't move or tell them what was going on. it was a terrifying experience, but i'm over it and feeling pretty good today. i'm glad to hear that other people have experienced it.
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This happened to me, but I didn't say anything to anyone because I was so scared.
I started to wake up in surgery and could hear people talking around me. I knew I shouldn't be awake and that I was in surgery and started to panic, but I couldn't move. I remember trying as hard as I could to yell or move my head or open my eyes, but I couldn't. Finally (after what seemed like much effort- but was probably only seconds) I was able to let out a groan. ( I was yelling in my head) I heard a nurse say something about this, and then I went out again.
I never felt any pain thank goodness, just really afraid that I was awake and I shouldn't be and not being able to tell them I was awake.
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I had surgery under what was supposed to be general anesthesia; I told the surgeon that I wanted a board-certified anesthesiologist and she agreed. But I ended up with a nurse (CRNA) who was so unskilled and negligent that she let the sevo vaporizer run dry and I was paralyzed but awake/aware for 10 minutes. Horrible pain, unable to scream. The trend today is to use nurses (CRNA's) not anesthesiologists and they just don't have the skill set to do general anesthesia. I'm a physician and if this could happen tome, it can happen to you. Don't believe the BS that the "CRNA's are supervised by MD's"; they really aren't. Despite my experience and medical degree, I'll never trust anesthesia again; if they promised me an ansethesiologist and delivered a nurse, that's fraud. And the icing on the cake is that the CRNA tried to lie about what happened to me; that is until she found out that I was a physician. Nurses have a place in the O.R., but delivering anesthesia is best done by an anesthesiologist.
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sandman64 sounds like the typical anesthesiologist who tries to convince you general anesthia is basically risk-free and no big deal. I had bone surgery on my femur and the anesthesiologist came in 20 min before the surgery and basically refused to do a regional block even though i specifically asked for it, so I went along with him and had general. He must have given too much because I didn't wake up until 2 1/2 hours after the surgery was over.
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I work for a daytime medical talk show and we are looking for a woman who has experience anesthesia awareness to share their story. if this is you please email me at with your name, age, location and a brief description of your story.
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I had general anesthesia this past week and I remember three things. I remember them sedating me and feeling really relaxed right before they administered the drug that knocked me out. Then I fell asleep. The next thing I remembered was waking up and struggling with an intensity I've never felt before. I don't know if I was vomiting or being intubated but it was a very desperate feeling like I was violently ill or being strangled. I heard voices but then I was out again. The last thing I remember was waking up from surgery after the procedure, not feeling sick or scared, just tired. I had bitten my lip. I have visible broken blood vessels in both eyes and little pin prick blood vessel breaks all over my face from the "struggle." I see the doctor tomorrow for a recheck. I think I woke up when they tried to put the tube down my throat. I remember smelling a plastic substance in my mouth but not feeling a tube. It was like vomiting without being able to breathe. Scary.

I thought maybe the strangling experience was a dream until the next morning when I saw my face.
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I had this experience when I had to go under general anesthesia after my spinal didn't take for a C-section. I have had several surgeries before and had no problems. I remember waking up and feeling like I couldn't breathe. I tried to move my arm to signal the doctors that I was awake, and was actually able to move my left arm off the operating table! They put it back up there, and then must have given me proper anesthesia. After the surgery they told me they had trouble intubating me. I still wonder if that was the reason that I felt like I could not breathe.
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