Awake and aware under the knife
December 26, 2007
There were some hospital horror stories in the papers recently about patients being awake and hearing and feeling their entire operations when they were supposedly knocked out ” unable to move or protest because paralyzing drugs. Apparently this is not all that uncommon.
I have a high degree of abhorrence for general anesthesia, having been thoroughly traumatized by a suffocating ether mask for a tonsillectomy when I was 5.
At the age of 8, I had to go through it again. When I was 3, I had tried an Evel Knievel trick jumping off the kitchen table and over an adjacent chair. “Look at me!” I cried, I clearing the chair but landing on my face, knocking out a front tooth.
Five years later, the new tooth had not managed to push through the scar tissue and our dentist told my mother he’d have to put me under with gas because I was too freaky to sit still for a Novocaine shot.
The horse needles they used in those days were something to behold, so this may have been prudent from his point of view, but in retrospect I think I should have been involved in the choice: gas mask, hypodermic or tough it out while he made a little slice in my gum to release the incoming tooth. I think I would have opted to be tough.
I awaited that appointment in sheer terror. The gas smelled like attar of rotting oranges, and my arms were strapped to the sides of the dental chair so I couldn’t try to pull off the mask when the choking began.
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Things have definitely progressed in the medical world. They no longer fill you up with whiskey and then knock you over the head with the bottle prior to amputations, and they don’t clamp ether and gas masks over your face, the anesthesia version of waterboarding.
However, they were still in the dark ages when I was 19 and was told that I would have to have gas once again to get my ear lanced. I might as well have been 5, the way I felt inside.
“Get it over with, get it over with,” I kept telling myself as I lay on a narrow table in the ear doctor’s office and listened to the clicks of the restraints, similar to seat belts.
The mask was put over my face and the familiar, unpleasant smell of unfresh oranges engulfed me. I tried to breathe deep to get it over with, but then the choking started ” you can’t catch your breath.
“Is she under yet?” my doctor asked the nurse. “No, NO ” I’m NOT!” I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t scream, couldn’t move.
“Yes,” replied the nurse. “I think so, yes.”
As moments go, this one was memorable.
The doctor inserted his instrument ” some fancy name for an ice pick ” into my ear drum: TWING, and pulled it out: TWANG.
I must have just been going under because it didn’t hurt, but I heard the whole thing loud and clear and then I disappeared. When I woke up I was crying.
One would think things of sort of thing couldn’t happen in these modern times, with full-fledged anesthesiologists and sophisticated monitors, but recent testimonies suggest that they do.
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