Special Report: Rude Awakening
Jeanette Liska, Patient
"Just as he's getting ready to put the oxygen on I said 'OK you guys, take good care of me.'"
Jeanette Liska closed her eyes and prepared for what was suppose to be a brief hernia operation.
"Shortly after that I could hear voices around me and I had thought to myself its amazing how these drugs work my surgery is already over."
But it wasn't over -- it hadn't even started.
"I thought, 'oh my God, I’m awake… I was completely, totally paralyzed… I was unable to open my eyes, or move or speak."
Jeanette's anesthesia wasn't working. She could sense everything that was around her, but she couldn't move or speak. She having "surgery awareness" and she isn't alone
"Awareness during anesthesia is a term that is used for people, who have consciousness and have some experiences of their surgery."
Janet Osterman, MD, BU Medical Center
Nearly 100 patients experience this everyday in the United States. Hearing monitors, sensing the operating room and at times even feeling pain.
"The surgeon continued to cut. I had felt every slice from the scalpel. The only way I can explain it for myself is I felt as if I was buried alive."
Anesthesiologists say there are many reasons why this happens. But the most simple explanation -- a patient doesn't have enough anesthesia.
"Not all of us need the same amount and it isn't always predictable, in other words, an old person doesn't always need less and a young person more."
Carl Rosow, MD, Mass General Hospital
To solve the problem, two Massachusetts companies have developed ways to monitor brain waves during surgery, showing anesthesiologists how asleep or how awake their patients may be.
"It’s a tool that makes the risk of awareness five times less likely than without it… At 100 the patients are awake, at 0 the patients are as deeply as sleep as possible."
Nassib Chamoun, Aspect Medical Group
But an additional monitor in the O.R. is only one step in making surgery safer.
"Having a monitor as I said doesn't prevent the problem. Somewhere there has to be an act of an involved anesthesiologist there."
To prevent what happened to Jeanette from happening to anyone else.
"The most difficult emotional part, still to this day, is knowing that other people like you and everyone else out there that is going out to have surgery, that this can still happen."
If surgery awareness has happened to you, it’s important to tell your anesthesiologist so they can learn from what went wrong and help prevent it in the future. If you're having surgery and have any worries at all, doctors say that they want you to ask questions.