Tips for Getting Through a Divorce With the Right Lawyer

Awake During Surgery? What Are Your Legal Options?

Although hundreds of thousands of surgical operations and other procedures requiring the use of general anesthesia take place each day without incident, in a number of cases (about 1 or 2 in every 1,000 operations), a patient may wake up mid-procedure, or be aware of what is happening but unable to move. This phenomenon, called "anesthesia awareness," can have devastating consequences for your physical and emotional health. In some cases, you may even hear unflattering or untrue comments made by doctors who believe you are unconscious. Read on to learn more about anesthesia awareness, as well as what you can do if you've been a victim of this type of anesthesia malfunction.

When can anesthesia awareness occur?

It's unknown exactly what causes anesthesia awareness in all cases. In some situations, it may be clear that the patient did not receive enough of a certain type of anesthetic to help prevent the patient from regaining consciousness. In other cases, this may simply be an unanticipated reaction between the patient's nervous system and the drugs used to suppress consciousness and sensation. Anesthesia awareness is most common among patients who have been given an epidural or other nerve block to prevent involuntary movement.

Most who have suffered anesthesia awareness report feeling the sensation of being operated upon, or hearing the voices of medical personnel, but being unable to move or even scream. This "locked in" sensation can lead to issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders. You may also suffer from chronic pain or suffer other health complications because you're unwilling to have follow-up surgeries due to your justifiable fear of anesthesia.

What are your legal options if you've suffered trauma due to anesthesia awareness?

If you were awake during a recent surgery, you may have a viable medical malpractice claim against your surgeon, anesthesiologist, or even the hospital. You'll want to consult a malpractice attorney to determine what you'll need to make your case, as well as whether it is worthwhile to take this case to trial or attempt to garner a settlement with the anesthesiologist's insurance carrier.

To recover damages, you'll need to demonstrate that one or more parties was at fault for not properly sedating you and that you suffered harm as a result of this breach of duty. Your attorney will request the hospital's records of your surgery, and may enlist the services of an expert witness to explain why what the anesthesiologist or hospital did was negligent. You'll also need to demonstrate the specific harm caused by the defendants' negligence. This can be done through testimony (for example, your attorney may call you to the stand and ask you about the impact this incident has had on your daily life) or through other evidence, like therapy bills or other witness statements.

What if you heard unflattering comments during your procedure?

One common theme among anesthesia awareness patients is the ability to hear every word the doctors and nurses say. In most cases, this amounts to no more than innocuous small talk or discussion of the procedure. In other cases, you may hear much more than you want to -- including insulting or demeaning comments about your body appearance, medical condition, or other factors.

If you overheard unflattering comments while awake during surgery, you may be able to recover additional damages for emotional pain and suffering or defamation. You'll need corroboration that these comments were made -- your attorney may be able to cross-examine the defendants (requiring them to admit to the conversation under penalty of perjury) or obtain video or audio recordings from the operating room. If it can be shown that defamatory comments were made in the presence of at least one witness, you may be able to secure a defamation judgment against the defendants.