Saturday 14 December 2019

Irishwoman tells of horror waking up under surgeon's knife during C-section

Traumatic experience was one of 11 cases of surgical patients regaining consciousness during their operation

A woman woke up during a Caesarean section
A woman woke up during a Caesarean section
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

A woman who was under the surgeon's knife on an operating table endured the nightmare of waking up - but being unable to see or move with her arms strapped down.

The patient was undergoing a Caesarean section to deliver her baby and became aware of "something in her mouth, taping of her eyes, draping and muffled voices".

The traumatic experience was one of 11 cases of surgical patients here regaining consciousness during their operation which were highlighted in a new report yesterday.

The report, by the Association of Anaesthetists in Great Britain and Ireland, is the largest study to investigate "accidental awareness", which occurs during surgery when patients have not been given enough anaesthetic.

It is estimated that one in every 19,000 patients regains consciousness while under the surgeon's scalpel - the equivalent of two cases every month in Irish hospitals.

Other cases revealed by the study included:

- A patient given wrong sedation suffered paralysis and a "fear of dying" on the operating table. They feared they were having a stroke, although the anaesthetist immediately recognised the blunder and said they would "fix it". The patient suffered flashbacks over the next few days, although overall the psychological impact was low.

- A patient who had an urgent operation later recalled having their eye examined, being paralysed and being unable to communicate after receiving too low an anaesthetic dose.

- A patient who was rigged up to tubes and ventilation started "bucking" after a trainee doctor forgot to turn on the gas to put the person under.

The study uncovered 300 cases in all across Ireland and the UK and said the incidence was much lower than previously suggested.

One of the patients, who recalled the terror, said she was just 12 when she woke up during a routine orthodontic operation.

"Suddenly, I knew something had gone wrong. I could hear voices around me, and I realised with horror that I had woken up in the middle of the operation, but couldn't move a muscle . . . while they fiddled, I frantically tried to decide whether I was about to die."

She suffered nightmares for 15 years without knowing the cause.

"I suddenly made the connection with feeling paralysed during the operation; after that I was freed of the nightmare and finally liberated from the more stressful aspects of the event."

Commenting on the findings Dr Ellen O'Sullivan, president of the College of Anaesthetists of Ireland, said the "extensive study showed that the majority of episodes of awareness were short-lived, occurred before surgery started or after it finished, and did not always cause concern to patients".

Despite this, 51pc of episodes led to distress and 41pc to longer-term psychological harm, the report stated.

Irish Independent

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