Anaesthetic awareness – the phenomenon of waking up or being aware of the pain during a surgical procedure – is thought to affect as many as 4,000 people in the UK every year.
For some patients it is a real-life horror story, where they feel the pain of being operated on but remain unconscious and unable to communicate. They’re screaming on the inside in an attempt to alert the surgical team, but while the anaesthetic is ineffective, the paralytic drug is doing its job.
But why does it happen? In most cases, the reason for patients waking up is down to a misjudgement about anaesthetic dosage required for a specific operation, possibly as a result of inexperience.
Thankfully, cases of this magnitude are relatively rare due to advancements in technology and procedures. Brain monitors can show surgical staff exactly how sedated a patient is, while a simple tourniquet can be used to identify whether a patient is still awake.
However, according to researchers in the field, some medical teams still do not use these techniques because they are unaware of just how common the problem is.
This has led to a number of clinical negligence claims being brought against private and public hospitals. Patients who have gone through this ordeal suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, fear of hospitals and, in some cases, post traumatic stress disorder. There is also an issue where some patients find people don’t believe them or are told they must have dreamt what happened.
The emotional and psychological impact of waking up during surgery can have long-lasting effects. Even with regular treatment, it can be debilitating in many aspects of their lives.
Speaking to a clinical negligence solicitor about their experience may not make the memories fade, but it can lead to a compensation payout that helps them get the help they need.