Paralysis adds to horror of waking up under the knife

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If you’re facing surgery this may well be your worst nightmare: waking up while under the knife without medical staff realizing.

kid-getting-anaesthesiaThe biggest-ever study of this phenomenon is shedding light on what such an experience feels like – and is causing debate about how best to prevent it.

For one year, starting in 2012, an anesthetist at every hospital in the UK and Ireland recorded whenever a patient later told a staff member that they had been awake during surgery. They investigated 300 cases by interviewing the patient and doctors involved.

One of the most striking findings, says lead author Jaideep Pandit of Oxford University Hospitals, was that pain was not generally the worst part of the experience – it was paralysis. For some operations, paralyzing drugs are given to relax muscles and stop unconscious reflex movements. “Pain was something they understood, but very few of us have experienced what it’s like to be paralyzed,” says Pandit. “They thought they had been buried alive.”

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