Have you ever thought of waking during the surgery? It’s terrifying even to think about. Though it’s not common, there is evidence that around 5 percent of people may experience so-called anesthesia awareness at some point on the operating table, though not everyone remembers it.

One such experience was shared by Donna Penner which happened 10 years ago. Donna, who had a minor health issue has been advised surgery by her family friend and to her horror, the anesthesia failed. Rather than lying peacefully, she woke up during the surgery but was unable to convey anything as her body was paralyzed.

A helpless Donna remained frozen on the operating table as the surgeon probed her body, while she experienced indescribable agony. “I thought, ‘This is it, this is how I’m going to die, right here on the table, and my family will never know what my last few hours were like because no one’s even noticing what’s going on.'”

The nightmarish trauma can resurface with the slightest trigger and still causes her to have “two or three nightmares each night”. Having been put on medical leave from her job, she has lost her independence. She suspects that she will never fully escape the effects of that day more than a decade ago. “It’s a life sentence.”

Living through such an event can be traumatic and painful for anyone. So what can be done to prevent it?

In the coming years, researchers may be able to identify a more reliable signature of consciousness, so that an anesthetist could monitor a patient’s level of awareness throughout an operation and adjust the doses according to what they see.

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