I had a spinal surgery when I was 18 and weathered it. Of course, we weather a lot at 18. Over 10 years and 4 kids later, I went on a routine visit to the back doctor for pain. I was hoping for good medicine and maybe physical therapy, but instead I was told I was in severe jeopardy of permanent nerve damage which could lead to being paralyzed from the waist down. A surgical option was presented…and I was speechless.
I remember just staring at the doctor in silence, in disbelief. It didn’t really hit me until I got in the elevator in the parking garage. I thought of my kids…specifically my two-year old twins and tears began streaming down my face. I will never forget it and that was 2004.
I did have the recommended surgeries; 2 surgeries 8 days apart. The first (posterior: on my backside) went so well. I was totally encouraged and in good spirits. The second, an anterior surgery, (to get to my spine through my front side) I woke up during surgery. And, I have never experienced anything like that in my life!
I was awake. But, it was a mental awareness more than being awake like waking up in the morning. In a surgery like that, you have tubes running down your throat and could not speak if you wanted to. Your eyes are taped shut, so there is nothing to see. The medicine that prevents movement is working, so no limbs could be moved. But (and this is a HUGE but) the anesthesia and pain medicine (if any is in effect) isn’t working at all – so you hear just fine…and you feel (in some cases, like mine) and worse, you know exactly what is going on. This is called Anesthesia Awareness.
Lesson One: Carol Weihrer ROCKS!
Of course, I had no idea what anesthesia awareness even was prior to that surgery. In fact, I had no reason to fear surgery at all, less normal recovery time. Sure, it was explained to me that I would be woken up during surgery to test reflexes, but that was with the caveat that it was routine and that I would not remember. But, I did remember and I did feel pain.
I heard surgeons and nurses and I was horrified. I tried so, so hard to let them know I was awake! (I hoped to move my fingers or toes…I kept thinking “mind over matter – you can DO THIS!” I tried to cry…consciously tried to produce tears and hoped they would see the wetness around my eye coverings. I thought of animals in surgery, I thought of ancient victims of Roman torture – torture genius I have heard. I thought of the relationships between nurse and doctor. I was freezing and wondered if I was naked. I was so, so cold. I felt like a cadavar. I thought of the beeping machines…and wondered why they weren’t going CRAZY with beeps….I screamed a voiceless scream. (That all sounds so cliché since the movie “Alive.”) Still, it happened. It happened to me. It happens to people.
Afterward, I came out of the surgery crying. I still couldn’t talk, but I asked my mother for a pen and wrote a note (in very affected writing due to after-surgery drugs) “I felt it! It hurt so DA*N bad!”) And we worked through it on our own, or what I thought was working through it. I just reasoned that I bargained for surgery, I knew what happened (in theory) I was tough and I would just get over it. But that is not what happened.
Months later, I began to question “why?” I asked myself, “How does something like this happen?” So, like anyone, I began researching online. It was there I found Carol Weihrer, the world’s biggest warrior for victims of anesthesia awareness. No, she would not know me today, though I did send her an email and she actually called me and left me a message. I couldn’t believe she called!
Years later, I saw her on the Larry King Live Show. She was brought in as an expert and they were spotlighting the movie – then, new release – “Alive.” I wondered if I should have called her back. Still, I love her for fighting for people like me. She is the voice, acknowledged and credible, for anesthesia awareness. And if anyone is making a difference, it is her! Right down to personally caring about some girl who sent her an email. I love this woman for her passion and strength and I follow her strides avidly. Check out all she is up to at:
I wouldn’t know anything about what happened to me if it weren’t for her. I wouldn’t even know what to call it. But, thanks to her, I know it is called “Anesthesia Awareness” and I know it is real…and it happens to normal people. I know there are things that can be done and people are fighting for those things. Carol is fighting and so can you. Find out how on her site!
Lesson Two: PTSD is REAL
I never really believed in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In fact, I never really put much stock in counseling or psychiatry. However, when things start happening in your life, that are so out of the ordinary…you do tend to ask yourself, “What is going on?” Perhaps it is not you but those around you that alert you to a problem.
The truth is that the human brain can only take so much. And each human is really wired, through birth, or learned ability to cope with so much. Once you tip the natural cope bar, there are going to be issues. They manifest in strange ways. But as sure as I sit, PTSD is real. A mind can only take in so much…and then, the circuits are fried. Anxiety and Depression (to name a few) are the fall out of PTSD and there are so many things that can help an individual cope with that. For example:
– Counseling, Psychology – including group therapy
– Closure in a Lawsuit
– Psychiatry – Medication
If you are in a place where you doubt getting help. Don’t put it off. PTSD is real and happens to really normal people. And though research suggests you will never recover; there are many tools out there to help you live a productive, successful, happy life again.
And if you are in the throws of a lawsuit, nothing speaks louder in court than a well-documented, faithful visit to a credited Doctor (of Psychiatry!) So, get help!
Lesson Three: Life Finds a Way
Not to quote Jurassic Park, but life does have a way of “finding a way.” If you have suffered from waking up during surgery, I am here to tell you…life goes on. Sometimes it is just nice to know that there will be joy and pain no matter what happens.
Waking up during surgery is not the end of the world albeit a horrific mental set-back. Still, life always goes on and you will find a way to live, truly live, again – if you get help.