A new movie—"Awake"—is based on a rare but terrifying reality: anesthesia that doesn't work, leaving a patient awake, but unable to move or speak during surgery.
The movie is fiction, but the phenomenon is not. Some real-life victims are sharing their hospital horror stories. The situation is called anesthesia awareness and Angela Delessio says it happened to her during an emergency Caesarian section.
"It really felt like a form of torture,” said Delessio. “You want to communicate and you can't."
Angela says she wanted to communicate that she felt everything and remembers everything from the operation.
“I felt that I was on fire and then of course feeling the pain of surgery. The incision, being pulled apart, you feel your insides being operated on."
Angela is not alone.
Of the 21 million surgeries performed under general anesthesia in the U.S. each year, one study says as many as one in 14,000 patients is aware.
Says anesthesiologist Dr. Donald Mathews, "There is a spectrum of experience that ranges from people who just remember little bits of conversation all the way to people who have these prolonged and horrific experiences."
That was the case for Carol Weihrer, when she had surgery to remove her eye.
"The next thing I heard was my surgeon telling the resident to cut deeper and pull harder,” says Weihrer. “I was screaming inside myself but I knew nothing was coming out."
That was ten years ago and Carol says still suffers. She started a support group for other victims of anesthesia awareness and a campaign to raise awareness among anesthesiologists.
"Many victims of awareness are told they're nuts, that they were asleep, that they had a dream, which in my opinion is an unspeakable, unforgivable word to say to a victim of awareness. It is not a dream," says Weihrer.
Doctors aren't sure exactly why this happens.
Anesthesia involves a combination of medications that provide pain relief, block the memory, induce unconsciousness, relax the muscles and inhibit the body's normal reflexes.
"This is an imperfect science that we have,” says Dr. Mathews, “and a lot of what we're doing is interpreting information that's coming into us from a variety of sources to try to make the best decisions about our patients."
Doctors say there is not much you can do to prevent anesthesia awareness—but they do stress that you have to be completely honest with your anesthesiologist about past drug and alcohol abuse.
New cancer cases
A new American cancer society report estimates that over 12-million new cases of cancer will have been diagnosed worldwide in 2007.
Additionally, more than 7.5 million people will have died from cancer-related causes.
In economically developed countries like the U.S., the most commonly diagnosed cancers are lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancers.
Researchers say cancer cases are increasing in developing countries as people there adopt western lifestyles—such as diets high in saturated fat, less exercise and smoking.