Sleep Soundly During Surgery

It’s something no one wants to think about — waking up in an operating room while you’re undergoing surgery. Yet, according to medical studies, it happens at least 40,000 times a year. For decades, doctors have tried to develop methods to prevent that scary prospect, and now it seems they have.

Joel recently needed hernia surgery. The night before his scheduled operation, he read an article about patients who sometimes wake-up during their procedures — patients who were not given enough anesthesia.

“It’s very graphic stuff — people feeling the pain, feeling them going through all these muscles and stuff. You want to scream, and you’re in pain, but you can’t because you’re paralyzed,” says Joel.

Fortunately for Joel, the University of Washington Hospital has the latest technology on hand to prevent that calamity. The new system — the Bispectral Index — is the first device to directly measure the effects of anesthetic agents on the brain.

Brain waves were an obvious place to look for a way to measure what anesthetics were doing because, after all, brain waves are generated by the brain where the anesthetics are working.

The Bispectral Index analyzes the patient’s brain wave pattern and converts it into a number between zero — indicating no brain activity — to 100, meaning a person is fully awake. The target number is between 50 to 60.

“Having this fairly large amount of scientific data to go by, we’re pretty confident that the monitor works well,” says Dr.

The device saves money by enabling anesthesiologists to administer the correct amount of anesthesia. With the right dose, patients usually wake up quicker after surgery. Joel says, “I was obviously totally out. I didn’t remember a thing, which is just the way I wanted it. I was a very happy patient.”

Though the wake-ups occur about 40,000 times a year, medical researchers say in almost all of the cases, the patients usually just feel pressure from the surgery. In a few hundred cases, though, they report experiencing actual pain.

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