April 26, 2012 at 3:00 PM ET
It sounds like the stuff of nightmares: A man wakes up in the middle of a surgery and can’t speak, or even twitch a muscle.
But that’s exactly what a young man from Sweden says happened to him. The 22-year-old Swede was in the middle of surgery for a collapsed lung when he woke up to hear doctors moving around and operating on him, the Swedish newspaper The Local reported.
“It was terrible, my worst nightmare,” he told the Sweden’s English-language paper.
The operation was in March and the patient, Simon Rosenqvist, recently filed a complaint with Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare, according to a report in the New York Daily News.
“My brain kept telling me over and over ‘say your name, say something, do something, wiggle your toes,’ but I was completely incapable of saying something or moving my body at all,’” Rosenqvist wrote in his report.
Rosenqvist told The Local that he was awake for some 30 to 35 minutes of the 50 minute procedure and that he was in serious pain and was very angry at the end of the procedure.
Experts say that although it’s rare, patients do sometimes wake up during surgeries even when they’ve been given general anesthesia. Overall, this happens in 1 to 2 out of 1,000 procedures, says Dr. Lee A. Fleisher, a professor and chair of anesthesiology and critical care at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Some trauma patients may be at greater risk of waking during the procedure, because doctors can't always give as much anesthetic.
“If something goes wrong during the surgery, if blood pressure is dropping dramatically then we will turn down the anesthetic drugs because they can cause blood pressure to drop,” Fleisher explained.
Patients with heart surgery are also at a higher risk for coming to consciousness during surgery, Fleisher said. “That’s another place where keeping the heart in good shape is our primary goal,” he added.
Usually anesthesiologists can tell if a patient is coming out of sedation, because heart rate and blood pressure will soar as the patient realizes what is happening, Fleisher said. And, normally, the anesthesiologist will increase the amount of anesthesia at that time.
Some patients who think they came to consciousness during surgery may be actually remembering the final moments before they went under, Fleisher said. But sometimes they will, indeed, have come to consciousness in the middle of the procedure. In that case, counseling is advised to help deal with the memories.
Several weeks after the surgery the young man told The Local that he was still having problems sleeping.