Surgeries should be stress-free. Of course, the lead-up is often fraught with anxiety and hassle, but once you’re on the operating table, there’s nothing left to do but succumb to the anesthesia and wake up when it’s all over. Except in one or two of every 1,000 medical procedures, the patient wakes up in the middle of the surgery. This phenomenon is called anesthesia awareness and it can be terrifying. Here are some first-hand experiences from people who lived through it.
8 Stories Where Patients Woke Up During Surgery
“I woke up during a routine colonoscopy. It felt like they were shoving a board through my intestines…the pressure was unreal. I remember I was finally able to say ‘please stop!’ Both the nurse and the doctor’s eyes got as big as saucers, and that’s the last thing I remember. Normally, you wake up in recovery, get up and go home pretty much alert. I slept for 24 hours because of the extra bump they had to give me to put me back under to complete the colonoscopy.” – JWJ71064
“I woke up when I was getting my wisdom teeth removed. I remember the doctor looking down at me and saying something along the lines of, ‘Oh, hello,’ before asking the nurse to put me back under. Next thing I remember was the nurse trying to take the cotton out of my mouth but I’d swallowed it all already like a champ.” – MySpookySkeleton
“Do I have pretty bones?”
“I woke up during surgery to remove a bone spur from my big toe. I must have made a sound because the doctor looked at me and said, ‘what are you doing up? Go back to sleep.’ I said ‘do I have pretty bones?’ And he said, ‘yes now go to sleep.’ And then I went back to sleep. I did not feel any pain at all. And I was so drugged up I wasn’t even scared.” – rumtiger
“They were talking about buying vintage lunchboxes on eBay. I wasn’t properly awake or in pain, but I could ‘feel’/had awareness that their hands were inside me. The anesthesiologist noticed my eyes were open, and I woke up again properly when they were wheeling me into recovery.” – yokayla
“This is awesome!”
“I woke up while they were putting a metal plate in my arm. They used a block which basically made my entire arm from shoulder to hand numb. When I woke up I could remember hearing a drill and a slight pressure in the arm they were working on. I just said ‘This is awesome!’ followed shortly by someone saying ‘oops.’ Quickly went back to sleep.” – caboose88
“You know I’m awake?”
“I was getting a lumbar puncture to check how the cancer was going and woke up on the table. I was listening to the people in the room getting ready to stick in the needle and I said, ‘You know I’m awake?’ and they were just like ‘oh, better give him some more.’
“I was around 10 and after that they started giving me adult doses of propofol to put me under. I also needed to be held in place since I apparently like to flop around.” – NightofSloths
“Can I see?”
“I woke up during foot surgery—I had conscious sedation and local anesthesia in my foot. I remember feeling super chilled out. I felt like me, the surgeon, and all the other people in there were buddies. They were sawing off part of a bone and I remember thinking that it felt kinda good, like a foot massage. I asked the surgeons if I could see what they were doing and they said something like ‘no, go back to sleep.’ I think I asked this question more than once during the surgery.
“I remember waking up right after the surgery as they were preparing to transfer me to the recovery room. The surgeon said something like ‘haul your ass onto this stretcher.’ Not gonna lie, it was pretty awesome.” – Allison_1derlnd
“I’m a big guy and when the anesthesiologist gave me the dose he told me I would be asleep in 10 minutes. About 15 minutes later I’m lying there still awake and I can hear that they are about to start. So I decide to give a ‘hey there.’ The doctor was astonished and was like ‘you’re still awake??’ So they have me another dose and I finally drifted off.
“I woke somewhere in the middle of the surgery and I could tell they had no idea I had woken up. I started to feel a lot of pain but I was afraid of startling the doctor, making his hand slip… So I [started] kind of quietly saying ‘ow’ but got louder and louder until they heard me and freaked out. All is well now though! Heart is fully functioning and all.” – BroBiOneKanobi
Why do some people experience anesthesia awareness?
In general, anesthesia is meant to put the patient into a reversible coma where they can’t feel pain or have any awareness of what’s happening. But sometimes, people can experience some awareness, even if they aren’t fully awake. Therefore, patients could remember different sensations or pain during surgery, or what the doctors or nurses were saying. This can occur when the medical team accidentally uses the wrong medication or from machine errors that don’t give enough of the dosage. Also, for people with multiple medical conditions, or with procedures like cesarean sections and some heart surgeries, it’s not safe to give the patient the usual amount of medication, leading to a higher risk of anesthesia awareness.
Unfortunately, there’s not much a patient could do at that moment. But if there’s a sign the patient is awakening or aware, the medical team increases the sedation to counter this. They also monitor for signs of an overdose, in which case, they reduce the sedation or reverse it. But while vital signs and response can monitor sedation levels, there’s no reliable way to measure consciousness.
Sometimes the memories of the event can trigger fear, anxiety, or even post-traumatic stress disorder. In these cases, therapy could help the patient process the experience. 
How to reduce the risk of waking up during surgery:
Before any procedure, the physician anesthesiologist will ask you about potential health conditions and previous experiences with anesthesia. To prevent anesthesia awareness, provide them with as much information as possible, including:
- All medications you are currently taking, including over-the-counter and herbal supplements
- History of drug or alcohol use since this tends to increase the risk of anesthesia awareness
- Any concerns you might have about the surgery and potential anesthesia awareness 
Keep Reading: Medical student flees anatomy class after finding friend’s body on table
1. “How Likely Are You to Wake Up During Surgery?” Healthline. August 18, 2021
2. “Anesthesia Awareness (Waking Up) During Surgery.” ASAHQ.