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Awake during surgery? The horrors of anesthesia awareness

Going into surgery can be a scary and anxious event for Baltimore residents. While patients place their trust in the medical professionals who are treating them, they often cannot help but think of the possibilities of what could go wrong during the surgery. These complications may be rare, but they do happen from time to time.

For example, mistakes can be made during the process of anesthesia that lead to a terrible event known as anesthesia awareness, which occurs when patients can recall their surroundings during surgery itself. The purpose of anesthesia, of course, is to make the patient unconscious during the procedure and relieve the pain that would otherwise be felt. During anesthesia awareness, the patient is not unconscious, and may feel pain while awake during the surgery. In some situations, the patient is under a state of paralysis, so the patient can feel pain and remain awake, but he or she is unable to communicate this to the treating professionals.

This horrifying situation can occur when physicians provide inadequate levels of anesthesia. It can also occur if there is an equipment failure, or if the medical professionals improperly use the equipment they are using.

The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists estimates that about 1 of every 1,000 patients receiving general anesthesia experiences some level of awareness, although it notes that severe episodes are unusual. Nonetheless, these incidents do occur, with tragic results for the patient. In addition to the pain that is experienced during the event, patients can develop post traumatic stress disorder or other problems after the surgery.

Ultimately, anesthesia awareness is just one of many problems that can occur during surgery. For this or any other error, patients may have a valid medical malpractice action they can bring against the treating physician and the hospital.

Source: American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, "Anesthetic Awareness Fact Sheet," accessed on Aug. 8, 2015

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