After going in for a routine surgery, Donna Penner slowly woke up. “Oh good, it’s over, it’s done,” she thought. Then she heard the surgeon ask for a scalpel. Horrifyingly, she was wide awake and the hour and a half long ordeal was just beginning.
It sounds like something from a horror movie or nightmare, but according to the Royal College of Anesthetists, “accidental awareness during general anesthesia” happens in roughly one in 19,000 operations. Although patients are awake, they are not able to speak or move due to the effects of muscle relaxants. Instead, they are forced to silently endure the pain and trauma of surgery.
Donna was severely traumatized after her experience in 2008. Finally, after nine years, she’s ready to talk about it. In a recent editorial for BBC, she explained what it was like “waking up under the surgeon’s knife” during a routine laparoscopy. What follows are excerpts from her story.
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“In 2008, I was booked in for an exploratory laparoscopy at a hospital in my home province of Manitoba in Canada. I was 44 and I had been experiencing heavy bleeding during my periods…During a laparoscopy, the surgeon makes incisions into your abdomen through which they will push instruments so they can take a look around. You have three or four small incisions instead of one big one.”
“The anesthesiologist gave me something in an intravenous drip and then he put a mask on my face and said, ‘Take a deep breath.’ So I did, and drifted off to sleep like I was supposed to.”
“When I woke up I could still hear the sounds in the operating room. I could hear the staff banging and clanging and the machines going – the monitors and that kind of thing. I thought, ‘Oh good, it’s over, it’s done.’ I was lying there feeling a little medicated, but at the same time I was also alert and enjoying that lazy feeling of waking up and feeling completely relaxed. That changed a few seconds later when I heard the surgeon speak.”