While anesthesia is safer than ever, sometimes patients wake up during surgery. It's rare but it's called anesthesia awareness and it apparently happens often enough that the accrediting agency for hospitals issued an alert calling the problem frightening and under-recognized. Some doctors explain that part of the problem is anesthesia is part science and part art.
"It's not like a light switch where you just turn something on and off. It's more like a dimmer switch, where you go from being wide awake to being, absolutely having no brain activity at all and the anesthetics can have a person anywhere in that continuum," says Dr. Donald Malthews, of St. Vincent's Hospital.
Now, here's the good news: to minimize the risk of waking up during surgery, anesthesiologists at some hospitals today are using something called a Bis Monitor. Stick-on electrodes on the forehead translate brain waves into a number that reflects how deep a sleep the patient is resting or not resting under anesthesia.
Most people with anesthesia awareness don't actually wake up and feel pain, they just have some recollection of what happened during surgery when they were supposed to be in a deep sleep. Studies show the Bis monitor reduces awareness by 50%.
When we heard that only a third of the nation's hospitals are using the device, NewsChannel 11 started calling and it should be of some comfort to know that UMC and Covenant are both using the device in operating rooms here.