During the Civil War, anesthesia was provided by dipping cloth in chloroform or ether and holding it over a patient’s nose and mouth. Today, anesthetic medications are delivered in a controlled (and more civil) manner through specialized devices to provide unconsciousness for surgery.
Over the last several years, there has been significant media coverage of “waking up” during surgery. Also known as intraoperative awareness, this implies that during a period of intended general anesthesia, the brain is aroused by stimuli stored in memory. Every week I have at least one patient express concern about waking up during surgery. Fortunately, intraoperative awareness is extremely rare and, according to a new study by the Royal College of Anaesthesists and the Association of Great Britain, only one in 15,000 patients experience this phenomenon.
Media coverage of this issue has resulted in the medical community proactively addressing and researching methods to prevent, identify, and treat intraoperative awareness. In fact, mindfulness about intraoperative awareness is a good thing, especially when it is discussed factually and is not sensationalized. Here are some facts every patient undergoing general anesthesia should know: