On August 13, 2008, I was admitted for a day surgery to remove a bone tumor. Unfortunately, the anaesthetic didn't work, and I was left completely conscious and paralyzed during the two and a half hour procedure.

Worst of all, I could feel everything. So, if you've ever wanted to know what being operated on while awake feels like...

Ask me anything!

Proof: http://tinypic.com/r/33mqxzm/5



http://imgur.com/FlldleA <--anaesthetic record, for the curious!

(and thank you to whomever gave me reddit gold, that is super kind of you! (And apparently gifts on my behalf? I'm sorry, I'm new at reddit and was NOT expecting this to blow up the way it did, but I'm grateful and you're all great! big hugs and kisses from the frozen north) Edit: for the obvious

Comments: 2364 • Responses: 30  • Date: 

porcupineprovision851 karma

This is my worst nightmare! What part of the body did they work on, and what was the most painful part?

ohnozombees1061 karma

They were working on my left ankle. If you feel where your Achilles Tendon is, and the bone under that? That's what they were working on--and it's definitely a toss up. The first incision was the worst pain-wise, but the horror of hearing a bone saw coming for you and being unable to move/cry out/scream was pretty bad.

porcupineprovision427 karma

Could you at least blink?

ohnozombees892 karma

Nope! Fully paralyzed, and even if I had, I was on my stomach, so they wouldn't have seen anyways.

Aint that a pisser, eh?

dan3659652 karma

Didnt your heart rate spike?

What about you BP? Was there no physiological response to the pain that was noticeable to the Doctors?

azurleaf436 karma

I really hope OP answers this. I recall a topic in an r/askscience thread about this, and someone mentioned something about 'While you can't scream, your body still would.', and that a good anesthesiologist would notice the spike in heart rate.

ze8401 karma

They would

Her anesthesiologist just wasn't very good. It actually happens fairly often.

Patient in the place i was working in last year had a similar thing. They were doing an exploratory Laparotomy and made comments about how she was fucked etc as surgeons do (they found a massive bowel tumour with multiple mets). When she woke up she told everyone i heard everything and I'm going to sue you.

Corticotropin106 karma

Did she survive? O_o

also, how is that lawsuit material?

smelgibson62 karma

The anesthesiologist failed to do the job that she was hired to do. By breaching her duty to the patient, she caused damage to the patient by having the patient stay awake/feel the pain/be unable to communicate said pain due to temporary paralysis. Furthermore, the anesthesiologist failed to monitor the client's heart rate spike as mentioned above. It is important to remember that the patient is agreeing to be operated on under the condition that the anesthesiologist properly performs their job.

ohnozombees39 karma

Actually, since I was given a paralytic, the full body was paralyzed--even the autosomal responses like lachrimation, heart rate, etc. the second that the paralytic wore off, though, I was screaming. Which must have scared them--previously quiet patient starts shrieking her head off, crying and screaming that she was awake?

I'm sure the other patients were NOT loving me that day.

etomidator562 karma

I'm a practising Anaesthetist, and this is something I worry about every day. Luckily I've only ever seen it once, and that was someone else's patient. I'm curious as to what kind of anaesthetic they were using - was it gas, or a propofol infusion? And did you ever go to sleep and then wake up (so, for example, were you awake when they put the tube in?), or were there any parts where you drifted in or out or consciousness? Thanks for doing this AMA!

ohnozombees631 karma

As it so happens, I have my medical records on me. (I tried to do this thread last month and got harassed terribly and called a liar etc for having crappy proof, so this time I brought it!)



Hopefully that helps!

I did, yes. I remember joking with the nurses to be careful when they turned me over, since it was a full moon; and then I stared up at the night and all the doctors arrayed. I stared counting back, and slipped out at 95,

And then, I woke up.

And no, I was present-- though there were parts where I was more lucid from the pain. I wouldn't say I drifted out of consciousness, but, I definitely checked out a couple times.


During the operation could you hear the doctors I've always been curious since seeing the movie awake and what was the reaction of the doctors after you did come too? I'm sorry you endured what I imagine was a very traumatic experience thank you for doing this AMA

ohnozombees1762 karma

I could! The lead surgeon actually spent some time talking about his golf scores--and for some reason, that stuck with me. Well, when I came to I was super agitated (enough that it ended up in the medical notes, as you can see). And I started screaming "I can feel it! I could feel it I was AWAKE!", so they called the doctor. The nurses tried to tell me it was just a bad trip from the morphine, and in my anger and panic, I looked at the doctor and snarled, "You -suck- at golf!"

He'd talked about that about halfway through, so it wasn't anything I could have known otherwise. I have never seen someone go the colour of concrete before or since.

And yeah, it was pretty shitty and I'm still dealing with the PTSD from it, but hopefully this'll be therapeutic! You're very welcome.

element_of_supplies1189 karma

"You -suck- at golf!"

I can't imagine what the surgeon must have thought.

"Holy fucking shit oh my god holy shit fuck shit shit shit fuck "

If I realized I just made someone feel that much pain I would be so distressed forever, and if it was my fault (as the anaesthesiologist) it would be 100x worse

ohnozombees9 karma

Especially cause: I was this 20 year old kid who wanted to be a doctor, who was super versed on her procedure and really calm (not my first surgery by any means). He tried to reassure me during our consult "We will take good care of you" and I was reassuring him that I wasn't frightened and I was sure he would".

And we chatted about the method and about his family and my school...

I was genuinely interested in hearing about his specialty.

Now imagine that, instead of just 'someone', it's that nice, cheerful girl who's cracking jokes and asks about your kids and cares about your day and she's woken up screaming, heart rate through the roof, incoherently screaming "I was awake!" and it's -your- fault.

Poor bastard probably went home and tried to drown himself in vodka.

Waffle-Stomps745 karma

I looked at the doctor and snarled, "You -suck- at golf!"


ohnozombees20 karma

You should have heard the quips I was cracking before I was sedated. I was flirting with the nurses, for gods sake. Joking about "full moons" and how "generally when people see me this undressed, they've bought me dinner first-- but we'll call it even if you're the one who delivers the jello".

Like, I'm naturally sassy, but yeah. That golf comment was pretty good, given the circumstances.

BiggerJ77 karma

What did the lead surgeon say after you snarled that at him? How long did you stay angry at the people involved? Did you ever desire revenge, or feel like you were likely to get violent given the chance?

If you were to ever meet the anesthesiologist, what do you think you'd say or do?

ohnozombees15 karma

I should clarify: the lead surgeon was the one with the shitty golf swing. The anaesthesiologist was this sweet little Chinese doctor who, during the consult, tried to reassure me that "We will take care of you".

I actually told him not to worry, it wasn't my first surgery and I wasn't frightened. I was joking the whole way in with the nurses, telling them to be careful when they flipped me over, since it was a full moon (not wearing much under them scrubs).

But they looked like... the colour of concrete.

And I was never angry--I knew it was an accident, they hadn't done it on purpose. I didn't want to ruin the career of good doctors, and I'd NEVER dream of revenge. I'd never want anyone to feel what I did, and I'd NEVER dream of inflicting it on anyone else.

If I'd ever meet him again, I'd ask him to please see if he could help me out with the therapy and PTSD bills. Thats the only thing I resent. They broke me, and I'm paying $17k a year for therapy, and that's coin I don't have. That makes me a bit upset.

tuframnedox386 karma

Do you harbor any ill will toward the medical team? Any nightmares, flashbacks or continuing mental or emotional trauma?

ohnozombees626 karma

A little, but only for the anaesthesiologist. I really wish he'd been more thorough with the checks-- I don't know quite what went wrong, but damn did he ever phone it in that day.

Miss-Omnibus337 karma

My mother had this twice, during corneal transplant surgery... fuuuuuuck that. <hugs for you my friend>

ohnozombees591 karma


Jesus christ, fuck that. Take the goddamn eye, I'll use echolocation to get around.

I can't imagine having to do it twice. Please give my best to your mom, she's a better woman than I. <hugs for you and your momma cause holy jesus damn>

Just_A_Girl_From_BK111 karma

People are often given local anesthesia and relaxers but are still purposely still awake for corneal transplants. OP should have been knocked out.

ohnozombees245 karma

I was supposed to be--- someone sorta screwed the pooch with mine.

But still--the concept of it happening twice... fuck that, I'd rather die. Literally, no hyperbole. I've got it written into my general med file; if there's a chance that giving me anaesthetic will kill me, but the alternative is pain of that level?

Dope me up and I'll take it up with the devil.

ohnozombees335 karma

Hey guys! I haven't abandoned the thread, just dealing with a minor crisis at the moment. One of my stepbrother's (pregaming) friends let my new rescue out, we just got her back. I'll be back as soon as I get her settled, just bear with me!

ohnozombees539 karma


and we're back! Meet Chloe, everyone. She's the dog I've been prescribed for the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She and I are going to be starting training soon.

Sorry, didn't mean to disappear!

But back to AMA :D

EgonIsGod230 karma

I am so glad to have never experienced this, though I did wake up during a retroparitaneal lymphadectomy. Standard procedure is to tape the eyes shut so they don't dry out, and you're on a respirator of course, but the tape wasn't on tight enough so I was able to get one eye open.

Kind of a mindfuck to look down and see your intestines unspooled onto the gurney next to you. Thankfully I was numbed up quite well, so as soon as one of the nurses saw me wink at her I was knocked back out. Anesthesia is a weird thing. Some people are less susceptible than others, and that can make it difficult for the anesthesiologist to knock you deep enough and keep you there safely.

ohnozombees212 karma

Exactly! It's actually fairly common for people to have some degree of awareness, but most of the time it's something like Egon's experiences, where the sleeper wears off, but the analgesic keeps working. It's especially common in cases where low doses of anaesthetic are required to avoid putting the patient into a coma or something. Cesarians and, horrifically, after bodily trauma, I think I read somewhere.

But figures I'd be the like, 0.001 dude that gets the worst case scenario. And what's worse is, I remember having that exact thought.

"Oh, come onnnnn"

Verrene226 karma

Would you say this is the worst pain you've felt?

ohnozombees425 karma


Both physically and psychologically. I seen some shit, but that by far took the cake.

sk2150ad11 karma


ohnozombees12 karma


The incision felt like when you're really really cold and then run a needle over your skin. Like, a cold prickly-itchiness. Then, the pain hit and it was white and hot and it felt like horror. Like, if you've ever seen a fish gasping for breath? It felt like that.

The feeling of the clamps was a focused pain, like this bone-deep ache combined with a sharp coldhot pain.

The bone saw was..... well, that sucked a lot. Imagine friction and vibration literally in your bones.... combined with this horror of knowing what they're doing and this brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr of the saw just whizzing away, and the smell of it, like almost a dry greasy hot smell. Ozone?

And if you want to hear the sound I was making, go over to the morbidreality page and find a video of someone screaming in panic. That's pretty much it.

0/10 do not recommend

picardythree221 karma


ohnozombees398 karma

I do! I developed PTSD afterwards, and do have all the classical symptoms. If there's anyone I feel bad for, it's my housemates. I occasionally wake them up with them---if I flop onto my stomach (the surgery position), for example.

And thanks! It was awfully crappy.

frothyloins212 karma

You've stated that the first incision was the worst pain-wise, but during the entire 2 and a half hours did you ever become desensitized to the pain at all? Have you reached the statute of limitations for legal action?

This is my worst nightmare.

Have you tried writing down your entire experience in detail? I dunno if that would be therapeutic or not.

ohnozombees353 karma

I have passed the statute. It's two years, and it's been longer. The problem there, though, is that noone at the time anticipated how badly the PTSD would go, and even training a service dog alone is anywhere from $3500-$20,000. And then there's the psych bills for therapy and the rest... It's expensive being crazy

BaLLiSToPHoBiC179 karma

How was the intubation? The breathing tube?

ohnozombees400 karma

The absolute goddamn worst. It felt like I was choking and gagging and it hurt. I have a new respect for sword swallowers.

Lickingyourmomsanus162 karma

Figures I'm having a procedure to remove a lipoma on Monday and this AMA pops up to scare me....

ohnozombees188 karma

Make sure to bring it up to your anaesthesiologist. It might seem rude, but do it anyways. If an EKG or whatever is available (a brain wave monitor??) insist on it.

Also, you do not know how badly I want to make a gallows humor Hunger Games joke. Nevermindme, though. You're going to be just fine!

RileyTrodd142 karma

Be careful with links, some people might link you gore to fuck with you.

ohnozombees239 karma

Holy crap, please nobody do this. That would be a monumentally uncool thing to do. (And then the AMA would get boring without me there!)

TheGrogHog114 karma

Jesus Christ that sounds like a horror movie.

Can you describe what pain on that level is like? Why didn't you pass out?

ohnozombees540 karma

It was! Awake, with Canada's own Hayden Christiansen. It might actually be worse torture than what happened to me, though, I wouldn't recommend it.

The pain... I can't put it into words, without getting flowery.

So remember, I can hear them, right? I just can't see them (eyes taped closed, I can remember the tickle of my eyelash against the tape), on my stomach. Everything is black.

Ive had three surgeries prior, so this is no big deal for me. I'm thinking Im in the recovery room. Okay---but... why cant I breathe?!!? Panic, flail, manage to figure out how to manage and relax enough to let the machine breathe for me. Okay, I can handle this.

So I'm just awake a little early--that explains why I'm on my stomach. And then I hear, "Nurse, scalpel please."

And then I realized very quickly that things were about to get really ugly if I didn't do anything. So I talk myself through it. "Move your toes." they dont move. "Next muscle." Nothing. Oh god. "Fingers! Don't panic, just wiggle your fingers." I try, so hard, but nothing happens. That pounding is the sound of your heart in your ears. "Okay. Scream. Scream, please let them hear me" And nothing came out. And then I remember thinking, "Okay. Panic."

and then I felt a tickle along the back of my ankle. It felt like when your leg goes numb and you drag a nail over if, or a sharp needle over skin, that sort of focused itchy feeling. And I thought, "Oh thank god". I thought I couldn't feel it---and then I felt it as cold. This intense, horrific dead-of-february-with-wet-hair cold... and then just the worst white heat ever.

I did. And always, the pain was enough to keep me awake.

tdavis1904110 karma

I get sleep paralysis sometimes and thats scary enough. I feel like I cant breathe sometimes and like km chocking. I couldnt imagine having surgery done while your body is asleep and mind is wide awake. Sorry you had to go through this. I would think someone would have a heart attack during that! Sooo scary!

ohnozombees168 karma

Actually, apparently I did do something similar! As soon as my body was able, apparently my heart rate shot sky high and my heart or something went wonky for a bit. Apparently everyone was horrified.

And I'm sorry about night terrors! That sounds horrible!

Misterpuppy84 karma


I'm so sorry. Did you sue? Do you have PTSD?

ohnozombees148 karma

I do have PTSD (pretty severe case, actually), no I didn't sue (because I was so traumatized I couldn't imagine having people try to 'prove me wrong', as I knew the hospital's lawyers would undoubtedly try to do. Now, with psych bills piling up, I sort of wish I had!).

And thanks! It makes for a good spooky story, for sure.

ElianeP49 karma

I'm so sorry for you.. I had surgery a few months ago and my biggest fear was the anesthesia rather than the surgery itself. What were your thoughts during the surgery? (2.5 hours!) Have you managed the pain at the end of surgery, after having felt it so much? A kind of desensitization? After how long did you realize that you were awake?

Thank you for this AMA, I hope that you will overcome with time this terrible experience, and wish you the best for the futur. (Hugs)

ohnozombees82 karma

Yeah, the anaesthetics are the scariest, hands down. I hope you're doing better now, though?

My thoughts varied. Sometimes I sang. Sometimes I recited passages from books. Sometimes I remembered places I had visited-- but it was like looking at pictures, not being in the action.

The pain wasn't worst at the end, it was the absolute worst when I heard the bone saw power up like the electric toothbrush from hell. That was the moment I hit rock bottom.

And it only took me like, half a minute, cause I tried to move and couldn't.

Thanks! You too!

kraykay19 karma

I've seen this question asked a few times but have yet to see the answer. I honestly feel that it is important enough to ask again.

Other than turning the color of concrete, how did the surgeon react to finding out you recalled his golf scores?

ohnozombees6 karma

Sorry, I'll answer you here! (I was not expecting this to blow up like it did--did someone mention front-page? wow!).

From what I recall, he went that sickly shade, and then basically ordered the nurse to move me away from the other patients, and to sedate me. The records say he explained it to me, but I have no memory of that. I remember waking up, screaming my head off, and then after that I expect I was really well drugged (ironic, they got it right that time!).

I do remember that they said they were going to move me to a private room (probably because I was scaring the other post-ops), but that my mom was going to have to go home because it was nearly past visiting hours. Well let me fucking tell you, that shit was not gonna fly. So I said "if she goes I go" and they said "you can't leave" and so I think what I said was, in effect, "best find a double bed, then".

That sticks with me, that they'd just horrifically traumatized a twenty year old and because she was the age of majority, they were going to send away her only support system. I remember feeling so betrayed, and a little paranoid that they'd try to give me a drug to make me forget (which yay thanks, but also sneaky bitches). I don't know if they would have or not, but I wasn't taking the chance.

As it happens, I left the next day after the nurse told me I was faking it, so it didn't do much in the end.

One does hope that he practiced his swing, though.

rob206011 karma

I woke up in the middle of throat surgery but unlike you was able to move. I raised my hand to signal the nurse I was awake (couldn't speak due to the tube, eyes were taped shut). I felt her push my hand back down. I was trying hard not to gag and keep calm. I raised my hand again. She pushed it back down again. I raised it a third time; she started to press it back down. I flipped my hand over and squeezed hers. I heard, "Oh, shit. He's awake!" After that I remember nothing.

ohnozombees7 karma

Glurgh... How did she not realize you were awake the first two times you raised your hand? Like, I'd be flipping out by then.

But I'm glad you're okay, rob!

PounderMcNasty6 karma

Did it hurt?

ohnozombees27 karma

Incredibly. There were a few moments when I wished I would just die, because the pain was so bad.

geological-tech2 karma

How does that paperwork prove that you were awake, it just proves that you had a procedure done. How is it that they didn't realize you were awake via your heart rate?

ohnozombees31 karma

Well, if you look to the second page (it's chicken-scratch, I know, doctor writing), you'll see the boxes highlighted in red for your convenience. That's the report from the post-op care and it states, to paraphrase:

"Pt agitated and hyperventilating, c/o pain in left foot. Dr [Anaesthesiologist] in attendance. Patient remains agitated, + saying I could feel it!" Dr [Anaesthesiologist] and 3 RN explained and calmed pt down".

So, you've got the admittance record, and the record from the attending nurses and staff in post-op that the second I could speak, I was screaming that I'd woken up.

I'd say that's pretty conclusive proof.

As for my heart rate--here's the kicker. When you are put in general anaesthetic, your heart and breathing are regulated by the machine for the most part (especially when a paralytic is administered). Because these are autosomal nervous reactions (that is, not voluntarily controlled), they're overridden by the paralytic. Heart rate, etc, aren't particularly good indicators of consciousness when using a paralytic. Feel free to look it up!

Splittingtail-39 karma

Why the hell didn't you say "uh guys, that kinda stings a little"

ohnozombees18 karma

Wish I could have! (and boy, did I ever try). Unfortunately, for some surgeries, the patient is paralyzed so they don't move around or wiggle. I was one of those patients--so while I was paralyzed, the actual pain killer (analgesic), didn't work.