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Dr. Kim Mulvihill reportingA new movie called "Awake" is based on a rare but terrifying reality: anesthesia doesn't always work and can leave a patient awake but unable to move or speak during surgery. This struck a nerve in our family.
My husband is a surgeon, my father practiced anesthesia, and one of my brothers is also an anesthesiologist.
In the movie "Awake" one of the characters can hear and feel what's happening as he undergoes open heart surgery.
The movie is fiction, but the phenomenon isn't. It's called anesthesia awareness, and Angela Delessio says it happened to her during an emergency cesarean section. She says, "It really felt like a form of torture. You want to communicate and you can't. I felt that I was on fire, and then, of course, feeling the pain of surgery: the incision being pulled apart, you feel your insides being operated on."
Angela is not alone. Of the 21 million surgeries performed under general anesthesia in the U.S. each year, one study says as many as one in 14 thousand patients is aware.
Doctors aren't exactly sure why this happens. Anesthesia involves a combination of medications that provide pain relief, block memory, induce unconsciousness, relax the muscles and inhibit the body's normal reflexes.
Today there is a campaign to raise awareness among anesthesiologists and support groups to help those who believe they have suffered from awareness.
Unfortunately, many have been told they must have been dreaming or that it was all in their head.
Keep in mind this is very rare, one in 14,000 cases. But it is so important to let your anesthesiologist know if you've been using any drugs or alcohol. These things can affect your medications. Also, speak out if you have concerns about it.
But one thing that's really exciting is, across the country now, lots of different hospitals are using monitors that keep track of the brain wave activity, so they're really able to fine-tune the anesthesia. That's exciting, and hopefully we're going to see less and less of this.