9 People Reveal What It’s Like To Wake Up In The Middle Of Surgery

March 12, 2019 | No Comments » | Topics: Life Experiences

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(photo: @jcgellidon)

1. This happened to me and it was the most horrifying experience that i will remember for the rest of my life! It all started when my husband and I had been the victims of a terrible motorcycle accident. I was lifeflighted off the interstate in Athens, to Grant Medical Center in Colombus Ohio.

I went through the emergency room where the trauma team inserted tubes all over my body at a rapid pace to check all my vitals and i must have passed out from the pain because I don’t remember anything else. Then when I woke up, I knew I was in the operating room because I felt cold and I could feel my stomach being patted down because it was jiggling from my excess weight. I could feel my stomach burn with excruciating pain and I remember thinking to myself, i need to let them know I’m awake! I couldn’t open my eyes, i couldn’t move my feet or even twitch my arm to let them know I was awake and I could feel everything. I felt completely paralyzed! I heard the doctors talking to each other and then I felt the sewing! My stomach was being sewed shut! It was horrible, I remember feeling the needle piercing my flesh and the thread pulling through to the next stitch! I kept trying to move but it was no use, so I laid there enduring the pain and when i felt a tear run out of my eye down the side of my face, and then the last thing I remember, I was waking up in recovery. I found out later, that I had broken all the ribs on my left side and punctured my left lung. Apparently one of my ribs also lascerated my spleen so they had to cut my abdomen from my pubic bone to my breastbone to remove my spleen. I was advised to try to avoid coughing because I had staples holding my stomach together. I asked my nurse if I also had stitches and I was told “Yes, but those will dissolve on thier own”. I then told her that I had woken up during the surgery and I couldn’t move, she listened to me but didn’t make any comments either way, but it’s a memory that will be with me for as long as I live.

Since then I have had 2 more surgeries and I have told the anesthesiologist each time that I have previously woken up and both times they have assured me it won’t happen again; so far it hasn’t, but that fear is there and it won’t go away. I feel for anyone who has gone through this, it was a living nightmare.


2. In the 90s I woke up during knee surgery. Like just fully snapped awake and sat up. All of these wide-eyed masked faces just turned and stared at me.

I looked down at my clamped open leg, looked at one of the masked faces that everyone seemed to be deferring to and said “I don’t think I want to be awake for this.”

They put me back under and as a drifted off I started to feel pain.

Woke up after the surgery and the doctor came in and apologized. I had specifically mentioned that I require more anesthesia than most people (the redhead thing that is finally being acknowledged in modern medicine) but they didn’t believe me and gave me a normal dose.


3. I woke up while they were putting a metal plate in my arm. They used a block which basically made my entire arm from shoulder to hand numb. When I woke up I could remember hearing a drill and a slight pressure in the arm they were working on. I just said “This is awesome” followed shortly by someone saying “oops.” Quickly went back to sleep.


4. At the young age of 5 it became aware to myself and the entire medical staff that my body processed general anesthetics far quicker than it should, thus causing me to wake up in the middle of an endoscopy, tube down the throat to look at shit in my stomach / throat. It was the first one I was having in regards to monitoring a growth in my throat. Hands down the most traumatizing experience I’ve ever had to deal with. I tried to move and began coughing and gagging on the tube that was down my throat. For the age of 5 I put up a decent fight, and was able to let out a scream which from my mother’s account she knew it was me immediately. Of course panic sets in, the doctors begin yelling that Im awake, and before I knew it I was asleep again. In my head this instance occurred over what I thought was a 5-6 period. Turns out I woke up 7 minutes into the operation and was wheeled into the room and wheeled out in under an hour. I remember the immense amount of pain I was in to have this metal rod down my throat and trying to move, ultimately fucking up a bunch of stuff. The scariest part was the white, everything was so white, the outfits, the walls, and to this day I have horrific nightmares and still hate being in/around hospitals. Shit sucked.

From here it was a whole mess of legal issues and health problems all while cancer cells were very evidently present in my throat. Crazy childhood man. Im good now though


5. I woke up while they were repairing a hernia in my lower abdomen. It felt like I was buried in a bunch of sand. I was still pretty out of it due to the drugs but I tried getting up off of the operating table (I actually thought I was buried) and they had to hold me down until they could get me re-anesthetized. I don’t remember seeing anything, just shades and figures, but the sensation of what I felt was just odd. Like I said, buried in sand.


6. I woke up in the middle of gall bladder removal surgery. I couldn’t look down, but I know I was cut open on the operating table by the bloody knife and vacuum tube in the surgeon’s hand. The thing that bothered me most, though, was the fact that there was a tube down my throat and it was really difficult to breathe. There were a lot of “Oh my God”s and “Please don’t move”s, some said very loudly and near the edge of panic. Finally the doctor yelled for someone to give me another dose of anesthetic, and bonk I was out like a light.


7. I woke up in the middle of an emergency abdominal surgery. All my muscles were paralyzed, including my breathing muscles. I felt as though I was suffocating and kept trying to take a breath desperately with no luck. I tried to move to get their attention and of course couldn’t. I was a prisoner in my own body as I listened to a woman calling my surgeon’s name and felt my organs being manipulated in my abdomen. All the while feeling as though I was suffocating. Have never felt more helpless in my life. They told me later that my heart rate had suddenly spiked to 140 in the middle of the surgery. I assume that’s when I had woken up.


8. I HATE that I can answer this. When I was a young man I was taken into surgery after a really nasty car accident. I was actually not in a car but the lady that hit me was driving at around 45 mph. Needless to say, this was already way high on my “fuckin sucks” scale. Somehow after returning to the land of the living, I vividly remember waking up on the operating table with those big ass lights shining on me. I quickly realized I had a tube in my mouth, and I was connected to IVs and things that went beep. As my vision cleared, my eyes tracked to the commotion in the room and I saw two doctor looking fellows along with two nurses all patting the back of a third nurse that was losing her cookies in the sink. It spooked me because I couldn’t imagine being in such bad shape that it would make someone throw up. After that, I don’t remember anything as I’m guessing the anesthesiologist caught me waking up and reversed my consciousness. Fade to black. That was all she wrote for me and I have no further memories of the operating room.

It’s been said that anesthesiologists will take you to the edge of death and hold you there. It’s a delicate balance and I can see why they make the big bucks.


9. I am a surgeon and have had a life-long phobia of this exact event. This past august, i went to my own hospital with septic and hemorrhagic shock (my blood pressure was dangerously low after an an aggressive infection ate its way into a blood vessel). I was taken to surgery by two of my partners. since anesthesia tends to drop the blood pressure further, the anesthesiologist gave me a minimal amounts to be safe. Having never had surgery before i did not know how my body responds to and metabolizes anesthesia. Unfortunately, while i am a pretty thin person, i am also a redhead, and as other respondents to this questions have noted (likely because genes that tend to co-segregate with this hair color , ie travel together thru generations), redheads have been scientifically demonstrated to require greater amounts of anesthesia than the average population. the anesthesiologist met me outside the door to the OR, wearing my cap, so he did not know ny hair color, and i was on pain meds and it did not occur to me to tell him. In any event, i experienced complete recall for the majority of the operation, meaning that while i heard, FELT and remembered everything vividly, i was also under neuromuscular paralysis, a drug induced state routinely administered for many operations to keep patients from moving (even tho presumably asleep) during the operation. Problem was, I was not asleep, and even though there i could feel hot cautery literally carving out chunks of my flesh, and that felt exactly how you would expect it to, far more terrifying was the sensation that i could not move or breathe at all (a machine pushed regular, measured breaths down my throat) or tell anyone what i was going through. I could hear my partners talking, i could tell u what country song was playing on the radio, and i was desperately trying to move my fingertips or head or cough or do something to let them know i was awake and could not. Thankfully, the sheer panic caused my blood pressure to sky rocket, and more anesthesia was administered to treat it, knocking me back out. After the surgery, I mentioned the event, but downplayed it significantly, not wanting to sound ingrateful or critical of my partners who probably saved my life. This decision probably contributed to the development of PTSD, nightmares and flashbacks which i continue to struggle with almost daily. So i would give patients undergoing surgery two pieces of advice:

(1) your anesthesiologist is just as important as your surgeon. DEMAND to meet him or her, well in advance, if at all possible, make sure u are talking to the person who will actually be administering the meds and monitoring you (which nowadays is commonly done by a CRNA or resident as opposed to the supervising attending anesthesiologist). This is not an unreasonable request, and in fact protocol at many hospitals (altho not always possible in the event of emergency surgery such as mine). Make them aware of all your concerns and fears. Ask about potential adverse effects of the anesthesia they plan to use, such as nausea and delirium (or cardiac risks, kidney and liver risks, and even increased eye pressure for those with glaucoma) and let them know if you are susceptible to these. Tell them about any past experiences and side effects with anesthesiology or pain meds. Ask them if you have any risk factors for “recall” and if they intend to modify their plan based on this; specifically, how they plan to monitor ur level of consciousness (typically done these days via vitals signs, as in my case, but more advanced technology is available)

(2) If, god forbid, u do experience recall or another traumatic event associated with your surgery, take it seriously and seek help early. PTSD can be prevented if those likely to develop it are identified early, usually within the 1st 24 hrs.

Also, i want to make it clear that i do not blame my anesthesiolgist, who did what he thought was safest. But we can all stand to learn and improve. Hope this helps someone else avoid the same experience


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