Back to Blog

Regaining Consciousness During Surgery

I recently came across a story on the internet about an American lady who was conscious during surgery to have an eyeball removed; a procedure called an ocular enucleation.  She could hear everything that was being said and described the 'tremendous tugging', but was unable to move or speak.  It could be material for a horror film but for some it is a very real experience. The lady went onto develop serious psychiatric problems leaving her unable to do her job.

I am currently acting for a man who while having gall bladder removal surgery became conscious. He could hear muffled voices but was unable to move.  He was subsequently diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It could have been a lot worse; the most severe cases result in brain damage.

Professor Aitkenhead, formerly Professor of Anaesthesia at Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham, before his recent retirement, is an expert in anaesthetic awareness and has worked on many legal cases arising from the issue.  He sees between 8 to 10 cases per year but predicts that there are people who suffer awareness but do not sue. 

According to the Royal College of Anaesthetists, between one and two people per 1,000 experience awareness after being given a general anaesthetic, adding up to 1,000 to 2,000 cases in the UK each year. Some believe that the problem is under reported.

Michael Wang, psychologist at the University of Leicester, another expert on the topic believes that part of the problem is that anaesthetists do not realise how common the problem is. The consensus amongst experts seems to be that awareness when under anaesthetic is more common then people think, so why then is more not done about the problem? 

Wang thinks that because anaesthetic has been used for such a long time, it is wrongly assumed that there is no need for further study or research. With the number of patients involved in litigation surrounding anaesthetic awareness I think more needs to be done to improve the techniques employed to ensure that patients are properly anaesthetised. 

Nisha Sharma is a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. If you or a member of your family have a clinical negligence enquiry please call our expert clinical negligence solicitors on 0800 916 9049 or contact us online and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch