33 Surgery Patients Share The Terror And Panic Of Waking Up In The Middle Of Surgery

via Flickr - Arthur Bergman
via Flickr – Arthur Bergman

1. Awake But Paralyzed

I woke up, felt really peaceful. Couldn’t really see anything, I think my eyes were just cracked open a bit, so I had the impression of people moving around.

Then I tried to take a breath. Couldn’t do it. All my muscles were paralyzed. I started to get air hunger so badly, my mind was racing, I was in a panic, but I could not make my lungs take in air and I couldn’t tell any of these shadowy doctors and nurses around me that I was dying. It was horrible. I think someone noticed my heart was racing because there was a sudden feeling of extra attention and alarm from the shadowy figures and I was put under again.

When I spoke with my doctor about it later he admitted there had been a bit of a problem with the anesthesiology, but that I had never been in danger. He apologized and I appreciated both that I hadn’t imagined this horrible situation, and that he hadn’t tried to pretend I imagined it. My brother is a nurse and some of the crappy things he’s told me he’s seen happen in the operating room are never admitted to patients afterward, I guess because of fear of lawsuits.


2. “Just Relax”

I woke up when they were removing a small bone from my foot that was broken. Remember feeling them poke around in my foot so decided to take a look. Remember seeing the incision and just then, a nurse noticed me with my head up. She just lightly pushed my head back down, told me to close eyes, and the next thing I know I was in the recovery room.


3. While Getting A Metal Plate

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.


4. “Oh”

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.


5. The Dentist Was On Top With Pliers

I woke up partway through having all 4 wisdom teeth removed. The assistant had wrapped her arms around my forehead, the dentist had his knee on my sternum and was yanking two handed on the largest pair of pliers I have ever seen that somehow fit into my mouth. He stopped, nodded to the anesthesiologist and then thankfully I didn’t remember anything else.


6. A PTSD Episode

I worked as a surgical assistant for an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. I saw so many things, but the one that stands out the most was when we were just about to start on a huge guy. He was 6’3 and weighed around 250. Extremely fit buff guy. During the beginning of the procedure the guy immediately woke up and went insane. He had a PTSD episode. He started pushing, kicking, punching, screaming “I have to help them! I have to help my men escape! I can’t leave them behind! He’s been shot! They killed them!” He was sobbing. There were more than 5 of us that were in the room and we could barely hold him down before the doctor could finally administer any type of sedative. Turns out what he was screaming had actually happened to him. It still gives me goosebumps. I remember it like it was yesterday. We ended up rescheduling his surgery.


7. Lala Land

All I remember is trying to raise my hands to get theirs out of my face, and trying to say “get out of my mouth,” which I’m sure came out something like “goua weh woo” then I was back off to lala land.


8. Puss Tastes Disgusting

I had the exact same thing happen to me. They gave me an anesthetic through an IV and, after I passed out, they numbed my jaw and gums. I woke up because it felt like someone had hooked a tank to my jaw and was trying to pop my head off my shoulders. I tried to say something and the dentist just says, “Sir, we are performing surgery, I’m going to need you to not talk and remain calm.”

I remember silently agreeing before passing out again, but not for the last time that day. All in all, the worst pain was the recovery and infection I got in my tooth socket. Puss in a tooth socket tastes absolutely disgusting.


9. During Heart Surgery

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 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.


10. During A Circumcision

I woke up halfway through my circumcision (26, medical complications made it necessary)

Thankfully I was paralyzed from the waist down still but apparently I said “uh… guys?… I think the sleep shit wore off…”

Two beeps and like 30 seconds later I was unconscious again.

Also holy shit there’s a lot of blood in a dick during circumcision. Like… scary shit!


11. They Tried But It Didn’t Work

I woke up during wisdom teeth removal, they noticed and increased the dosage. It didn’t work, and I pretty much had to lay there delirious for half an hour while they pulled my teeth out. I remember being really mad at the dentist for putting me through so much pain but after the operation was over they were very apologetic and I realized that it wasn’t really their fault.


12. Redheads have a High Tolerance

In the mid 90s I woke up during knee surgery. Like just fully snapped awake and sat up. All of these wide-eyed masked faces just turned and stared at me.

I looked down at my clamped open leg, looked at one of the masked faces that everyone seemed to be deferring to and said “I don’t think I want to be awake for this.”

They put me back under and as a drifted off I started to feel pain.

Woke up after the surgery and the doctor came in and apologized. I had specifically mentioned that I require more anesthesia than most people (the redhead thing that is finally being acknowledged in modern medicine) but they didn’t believe me and gave me a normal dose.


13. Told Them He Needed More Meds But They Didn’t Believe It

I had an endoscopy and colonoscopy the same morning. I was told since I was doing both that I would have general anesthesia and not remember a thing. I warned them that I have had to be given extra medicine before (I’ll tell that story next), but I think they didn’t believe me.

I didn’t wake during the endoscopy. During the colonoscopy, I came to but I was heavily out of it from the drugs I needed for the endoscopy. I was looking at the screen and realized I saw what they were-the inside of my colon. Anesthesia makes me really giddy and weird, so I decided to make a joke. I said, “Looks like I did a really good job cleaning myself out!” (referring to the prep you do the day before to clean out your bowels).

Following this I started laughing. Thinking back this could’ve been bad because you are supposed to stay still so they don’t puncture anything. They got a good laugh out of me though and turned up the meds. I don’t remember the rest.

The second story is I had to have a lump the size of a golfball removed from my breast (luckily it was benign). Before surgery they gave me the anesthesia and it seemed normal at first. Instead of falling asleep though, I just went on a really crazy trip. The big light next to me was shimmering like it was wet and changing colors. The tiles on the ceiling were expanding and getting longer then smaller. This went on for what seemed like a long time before the room looked normal again. I spoke up and said, “I think you need to give me more.” The nurse must have had a near heart attack (I was supposed to be asleep). The doctor came in, verified I was wide awake, and they gave me more.


14. Awake During Retina Surgery

I vaguely remember becoming aware that I was in surgery during an operation to repair a detached retina. I didn’t feel any pain, since it was just the sedative and not the anesthetic that wore off. I remember seeing the doctor standing over me, singing the song from The Country Bear Jamboree at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World, and the doctor calling for more sedation before I knocked back out.

Once in recovery, they told me I had to eat before allowing me to go home, and asked what I wanted. I requested lasagna stuffed inside ravioli. Man, those were some good drugs, whatever it was they gave me.


15. Vintage Lunchboxes

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.


16. Five Years Old On The Operating Table

At the young age of 5 it became aware to myself and the entire medical staff that my body processed general anesthetics far quicker than it should, thus causing me to wake up in the middle of an endoscopy, tube down the throat to look at shit in my stomach / throat. It was the first one I was having in regards to monitoring a growth in my throat. Hands down the most traumatizing experience I’ve ever had to deal with. I tried to move and began coughing and gagging on the tube that was down my throat. For the age of 5 I put up a decent fight, and was able to let out a scream which from my mother’s account she knew it was me immediately. Of course panic sets in, the doctors begin yelling that Im awake, and before I knew it I was asleep again. In my head this instance occurred over what I thought was a 5-6 period. Turns out I woke up 7 minutes into the operation and was wheeled into the room and wheeled out in under an hour. I remember the immense amount of pain I was in to have this metal rod down my throat and trying to move, ultimately fucking up a bunch of stuff. The scariest part was the white, everything was so white, the outfits, the walls, and to this day I have horrific nightmares and still hate being in/around hospitals. Shit sucked.


17. Asshole Surgeon

Had to have a lumpectomy done about 3-4 years ago. The anesthesiologist came in to speak to me about general and how I would be put under for the procedure, blah blah blah. Fast forward to the surgery room- I’m wheeled in, some medication is given to me through my line, I start to feel kind of loose. Enter asshole surgeon.

Anesthesiologist starts to tell her he’s about to start my general. She gives him the look of death followed by “She’s not going under for this.” He looks at her kind of funny, says no I’ve told the patient we would do general and I think that’s best for this situation. Surgeon doesn’t agree, says twilight only, I try to speak, I’m vetoed. In goes local and I wake up mid-surgery attempting to speak and lifting my head up freaking out. Anesthesiologist flips his shit, grabs my line, in goes general. He paced through my recovery room for the next two hours waiting for me to wake up. I make eye contact as I come to, he lets out a HUGE sigh and leaves the room.

Never again do I see that surgeon.


18. They Were Hitting Him With A Mallet

Broke my arm (very close to the wrist) during a dirt bike accident but me being me, I was just like “naaaww, its just a sprain and it will heal”. It did heal but VERY crooked. Went in for surgery to have it broken a set straight. Mid way through surgery i’m woken up by a tugging and a muffled thud. I open my eyes to see numerous doctors and nurses pulling my arm in opposing directions and there is one doctor hitting my arm by the “breaking point” with a mallet. Next thing I knew I’m waking up on the recovery room. Apparently a nurse was on standby with a hardcore sedative just in case as I seemed to be initially resisting the gas.


19. Completely Freaked Out The Doctor

I was having surgery on my ankle in 2005, getting a few pins placed because I’m super graceful and broke it. I woke up to hearing what sounded like a drill, and feeling a lot of pressure at my foot. I didn’t feel any pain, thank goodness.

I opened my eyes and looked directly at the anesthesiologist, who immediately said “hold on. She’s waking up.” Everyone kind of stopped what they were doing, and then I went back under.

When I came to again, I was in the recovery ICU with the doctor. I asked her how long into the surgery I woke up, and she told me I was only out 15 minutes before I needed more anesthesia. She also told me I’d scared the shit out of her, because it was the first time anyone had ever woken up on the table in her experience. Granted, she was fairly young so I don’t think it’s all that uncommon.

She was really cool about everything though. She asked if I’d been afraid and needed someone to talk to, and I told her no. I was never scared or in pain, so as far as I was concerned it was just a weird experience during my otherwise successful surgery.


20. Nothing Has Come Close To That Pain

Woke up during a form of gastric bypass in 2001. I remember feeling the worst pain of my life. I couldn’t hear anything and knew my eyes were taped shut. The only thing I could thing to do was move my hands as I could feel the restraint. I started rolling my hands as much as possible and that was it. I had gall stones the size of golf balls in my gall bladder, broke my leg during roller derby and walking on it to take myself to the hospital, and got to almost 8 cm dilated before I requested the epidural. Waking up during surgery is my 10. Nothing has come close to that pain.


21. Woke Up To Metal Clanging Metal

I was having a triple bypass. They were taking the graft artery out of my arm. I woke up and heard the sounds of an operating room. People talking, metal clanging against metal. Heard someone say close up that arm now. I was thinking it was over, I had made it. But I still couldn’t open my eyes and my mouth felt like it was full of tubes. Arms were strapped down. Then I heard the man’s voice again and he said “Okay, I’m going into the chest.”

Well, that got me a little excited. I had agreed to the open heart surgery but I didn’t want to be awake for it. I tried moving as hard as I could to let them know I wasn’t asleep. I felt pressure on my chest and it moved. As the pressure moved, I felt a coldness where the pressure was as he was cutting into me. I worked as hard as I could to get moving and found I was able to flex my butt and leg muscles just a little bit. I started doing that in rhythm and got the gurney rocking a little bit head to toe. The pressure stopped and I heard “This man is not asleep!” Someone else said “OH!” In about three seconds I was out again and didn’t wake up until I was in recovery.

After I was moved to ICU and the hoses were pulled out of my throat the doctor asked everyone to leave the room and he asked what I remembered. I told him about what I wrote above. He said that was him saying those things. He said the art to heart surgery is keeping you enough under the anesthesia so you don’t know what’s going on but not so deep that they can’t get the heart started again. Doesn’t give me any stress or dread like some people have told me they thought it would give them. I’m just glad I got his attention before he started spreading ribs!


22. Woke Up Fighting

I chose to be sedated and knocked out for an endoscope when I was 17. This was the first time I’d ever been put under and it didn’t go so well. I now know that I have the weird gene red haired and pale people get that causes us to metabolize narcotics and sedation differently. Basically it takes a shit load of drugs to knock me out. Up until then, I hadn’t had an experience with it.

The sedation they gave me put me out for about 10 minutes. I woke up suddenly and violently during the procedure. I started kicking and punching and trying to pull out the endoscope. The doctor and nurse tried to hold me down but I kept fighting them. At the time I just remember thinking “why are they so upset, I’m just laying here doing nothing”. They had to give me a ton more sedative to put me out again.

A couple months later when I had my wisdom teeth out at the hospital they did the whole “breathe deeply and count back from 100”. I got down to about 65 when they realized they needed to administer more. They said i took more than most grown men.


23. Woke Up To A Screwdriver In His Arm

I woke up during surgery to repair a shattered Humerus. My whole shoulder was dissected open and a dude was using a screwdriver and a drill to attach a steel plate to the bones pull the parts together.

Me: ahhhhh! (Screaming through O2 mask) Doc: (turning pale) I thought you were out ! Me: Im not fucking out you stupid motherfucking son of a bitch. AAAhhh! This fucking hurts ! Stop that ! Goddammit….. (continued to scream curses in five languages at the poor doc, who is looking at the anesthesiologist….) And then I was out. My wife, who was in the waiting room, said she knew it was me screaming, and really, really had to keep herself calm and not run back there and start kicking asses.

I felt so bad at the nasty shit I said to the poor doc that I looked him up and apologized a week or so later when I was in for a post hospital stay checkup.

Me: Um, I’m really sorry at the stuff I said to you. Doc: You remember that? Me: Yeah, and I’m really not like that. I’m sorry. Doc: (Chuckling).. it’s OK, it happens. I’d yell too. So.. how are you ? Me: Better

Thanks again, Doc. Without you I’d have a stainless steel joint and be even more fucked up than I am with just some screws and rivets and shit. Or have a plain pinned up sleeve and no arm at all. Because that damage was epically bad.


24. The Smell Was Godawful

This story might be a little long, but.. When I was 17 I got appendicitis, but the kicker is I was mis diagnosed twice! I went a full month with a ruptured appendix that gave me a softball sized cyst(the bacteria that leaked from my ruptured appendix created this cyst) Anyway I spent 4 weeks in bed popping 2 hydrocodone four times a day. Went to the local hospital twice now and they kept saying it was lymph nodes or some bullshit and it would go away on its own.

Eventually my parents took me to a different hospital and they diagnosed me with appendicitis and needed to do emergency surgery because apparently I could have died if I left that cyst there much longer.

They ended up opening me up and draining the cyst that night. I remember them knocking me out for the procedure and then I woke up to an extreme force like I had a 500 pound boulder on my lower right side where the appendix is. I remember seeing the doctors with some tubes like forcing them into my abdomen and it fucking hurt. They were trying to get the tubes into the cyst to drain it apparently, but holy hell it was the most uncomfortable thing I can remember. Not only the pain, but I will never forget that horrible god awful smell that came from the puss they were draining from the cyst.


25. Being Stitched Up With A Tube Down Your Throat

I woke up as they were stitching my leg back up after getting hit by car. I freaked the fuck out because I was intubated and couldn’t move (muscle blockers or whatever) but then I just relaxed and conked out again.

Not entirely relevant but I’ve undergone like 15 surgeries (all related to my username) and I kinda enjoy the feeling on General Anesthesia. Just kinda breathe in deeply and the next thing you know you’re in the recovery room.


26. By The Way, Doc…

I woke up during dental work, mentioned how Adventure time was my favorite show, and then went back under.


27. So Calm

When my father had his hip replaced, he woke up in the middle of his surgery. He said “it sounded like someone was building a house” because of all the sawing and hammering. Luckily he was still numb, so he just looked over at the anesthesiologist and said “I think I’d like to go back to sleep now”. My father said the guy looked like he shit himself when he realized my dad was awake, and quickly put him back under.


28. Woke Up To His Nose Being Broken

I woke up during surgery for a deviated septum. Heard crunching and saw the doc leaning over me. They put me back under. Apparently the bone that the cartilage attaches to was crooked from a childhood injury and the doc had to break off the crooked piece with needle nosed pliers. Hence the crunching sound.


29. “Go Back To Sleep”

I woke up in the middle of dental surgery where the surgeon was cutting into the roof of my mouth and tried to ask what they were doing, he seemed pretty surprised and immediately told me to go back to sleep as there was a knife in my mouth while I was trying to talk, and that’s basically all I remember from the surgery as I listened and was asleep about 1 second later.


30. Woke Up, Watched The Whole Surgery

I was awake during emergency surgery. I had been awake about 36 hours at that point (with a few hours of fitful sleep here and there, fuck hospitals) so I was pretty out of it. I had a spinal block so I felt nothing and got to watch the whole surgery on a monitor (uterine artery embolism.) was in the OR from about 12:30 AM to 3 AM, though now it feels like it only lasted a few minutes. My family was super tired by the time they wheeled me into the ICU.


31. “Hold Him! Hold Him!”

Trans-esophageal echo Cardiograph. FIRST TIME. “He’s waking up, hold him, hold him..” I pulled the instrument out of my throat on instinct, blood everywhere. Yay.

Same Procedure, happened again a few years later. Ugh. Apparently I cussed them out and tried to hit the nurses. So that’s fun.


32. Bit The Dentist

I woke up in the middle of having my wisdom teeth removed and, naturally, bit the dentist. “Open your mouth, open your mouth!” they shouted. Then I passed out again. He always uses lots of local so I wasn’t in pain when I woke up, just surprised.

Incidentally, benzos are used as part of anaesthesia partly due to their amnesic characteristics. It’s just easier to wipe people’s memories than always prevent wakings.


33. Fighting Back

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