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Tuesday, 14 August, 2007

Hollywood tackles anesthesia screw-ups

In , a Hollywood film slated to be released soon, Vancouver-born actor Hayden Christensen (right) plays a young husband who regains consciousness during open-heart surgery but is unable to move or talk.

"Anesthesiologists are not looking forward to [Awake] coming out at all," . People have become aware of the possibility, he says, and now worry about going under the knife.

Patients' fears, reports the Star, are not entirely unfounded: post-traumatic stress from the experience has led to a myriad of effects, ranging from depression to suicide. In the Star article, one victim recounts her horror when she came to during eye surgery but couldn't warn the doctors. Ms Carol Weirher says her experience left her afraid to sleep or lie down. She spends her nights in a chair, napping for 90 minutes at a time.

Her ordeal prompted her to start the , and she is now fighting to have monitoring devices installed in operating rooms. The device measures brain waves and alerts anesthesiologists when the patient is not completely sedated. It costs between $4,000 and $5,000; only a few are currently available in Canada.

Episodes of intra-operative awareness while under general anesthesia are reported by one or two of every 1,000 patients, writes University of Toronto physiologist Beverley Orser, in . Most end up going back under, but a few stay conscious enough to feel every cut, pull and tug, yet are too paralyzed by the anesthetic to do anything about it.

An Australian study published in 2005 in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia found -- as much as four times higher than previously reported rates in adults.

Photo: Awake film still,

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