What is Anesthesia Awareness?

March 14th, 2020

Anesthesia awareness is about to get the Hollywood treatment in the upcoming film Awake. What is anesthesia awareness? Well, consider this horrifying possibility: you are on the surgical table and the physician is cutting into your abdomen to remove your appendix. Although you can’t move or signify to any of the masked faces above you that you are indeed conscious of what is going, you can feel the excruciating pain. Sound like a horror story? In more ways than one.

Anesthesia awareness incidents actually used to be more common than they are today, so why is it becoming more publicly known now than then? The main reason is that most patients who underwent the torture of anesthesia awareness also suffered other anesthetic complications that resulted in death. In other words, though it happens less often today, more people survive to tell about their ordeal. Another reason is that in the past twenty years there have been significant leaps in patient monitoring technology. Today’s electroencephalograph, for instance, provides substantially more useful information about a patient’s brain activity than was possible even a decade ago. Other more sophisticated machines have been developed that give a far more accurate determination of consciousness during surgical procedures. Still, when it comes to anesthesia awareness, all those machines that go BEEP are about as useful as a manned mission to Mars if the anesthetist himself doesn’t know how to properly read them. For that reason, the life of an anesthetist has gotten a bit more complicated than the old days of being a mere gas passer. They must undergo more training than ever before and keep up with the flood of new devices pouring onto the market. It isn’t just the devices to reduce the risk of anesthesia awareness that has done the trick, in other words; it is the view that the anesthetist is a far more important piece of the surgical team than he has traditionally been viewed as.

Anesthesia awareness is typically characterized by the patient’s consciousness of the fact that surgery is taking place, but the inability to communicate bodily or verbally. Anesthetists are usually more highly sensitive to the potential of this occurring because their training makes them apt to understand the consequences of consciousness during a procedure that requires the numbing of the body’s nervous system in order to avoid feeling unspeakable pain. For that reason, most cases of awareness occur during hectic emergency surgery. During “routine” surgery time is not as precious as it is under emergency conditions; therefore the anesthetist can afford to take extra precautions. Emergency situations are unique in many ways. Not only is there the time consideration, of course, but also the fact that very often the kind of anesthetic approach that might normally be taken must be jettisoned because a full, deep-sleep approach could endanger the patient’s life as much as not operating at all.

Is there anything the patient can do to reduce the risk of anesthesia awareness occurring in non-emergency situations? To a point, yes. You know how you are instructed to avoid eating before surgery? Don’t cheat and then lie to your doctor. Also make sure you provide an exact list of any medication you have taken prior to surgery. Avoid alcohol and tobacco, although that’s good enough whether you are going under the knife or not. Also be sure to list any allergies you may have. On a separate note, if you own a medical practice services, we provide plastic surgeon marketing services so we can help you grow your medical business.