Are you about to go under anesthesia? Are you feeling a little nervous?
If so, you’re not alone. About 88 percent of people experience some level of fear pre-operation.
Oftentimes, people are afraid about going under anesthesia because they don’t really know what it’s like. Basically, they’re afraid of the unknown.
Even though it’s impossible to learn everything there is to know about “going under”, knowing the basics can really make a difference.
So, what is it like to go under anesthesia?
Read on to find out.
Know the Facts:
When people say they’re afraid of anesthesia, often, what they really mean is that they’re afraid of something going wrong. Specifically, they’re afraid of there being complications with the anesthesia that result in severe injury or death.
We’re not going lie – this has happened before. But, the chances of it happening are extremely rare.
It’s estimated that about 0.01 to 0.016% of patients experience complications with anesthesia. And, as medical technology advances, the chance of dying from anesthesia keeps decreasing.
In fact, over the past 25 years, the chances of experiencing fatal complications from anesthesia have gone down from 2 deaths per 10,000 to 1 death per 300,000.
To put that number in perspective, you have a better chance of:
- Being killed by another passenger on an airplane
- Being killed by a hornet sting or bee sting
- Choking to death on food
- And yes, being struck by lightning
Of course, it can sometimes feel like your chances are a lot higher, as everyone focuses on the bad stories instead of the success stories.
There are also certain factors that put you at a greater risk of experiencing complications with anesthesia. These include:
- Poor overall health
- Old age
- High blood pressure
- History of heavy drug or alcohol use
- Certain medications that can increase bleeding, like aspirin.
Every day, 60,000 people go under anesthesia for some type of surgery. If it was that dangerous, would 60,000 people really opt to do this every day?
Before the Surgery:
While you won’t typically have to make any significant changes before going under anesthesia, it still helps to know what goes on beforehand, so you feel more prepared for the whole process.
Before your surgery, you will meet with the anesthesiologist, the doctor who administers the anesthesia. During your meeting with the anesthesiologist, you will discuss any chronic medical conditions or allergies you have, your general health history, your smoking and drinking habits, and whether or not you have had complications with anesthesia before.
During this time, it’s also very important to ask your anesthesiologist some questions. That way, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect on the day of the surgery.
You should ask your doctor the following questions:
1. What Will You Do to Put Me Under?
Many people don’t know this, but there are actually two ways you will be put under by your anesthesiologist. Either you will inhale the medication in vapor form through a breathing mask, or you will be administered an IV that contains the medication.
Before the surgery, your anesthesiologist will know which method they plan to use, and they can walk you through the specifics of each one.
2. What Should I Do to Prepare?
Typically, you won’t need to do too much to prepare for your surgery. Your anesthesiologist will probably require you to stop eating 6 to 12 hours before the operation.
Going into the surgery on an empty stomach will decrease your chances of vomiting, which has its own potential dangers.
And, don’t worry, most surgeries are scheduled in the morning, so you don’t have to worry about going the whole day without eating.
3. How Soon Can I Go Home After?
No one wants to spend more time at the doctor than they need to, so you will also want to find out when you’re allowed to go home after you wake up.
The answer to this question is different for everyone, as it really depends on what type of surgery you have. (This website shows some examples of different surgeries where anesthesia may be used.) It could be anywhere from a couple hours to a couple days after, depending on how much post-surgery monitoring you need.
Regardless of the time, you will be required to have someone pick you up from the surgery, as you shouldn’t be driving. And, it’s usually best that this person stays with you for 24 hours following the surgery, just to be safe.
The Day Of:
Now that you know what goes on before the surgery, let’s talk about what happens on the big day.
When you arrive at the hospital or clinic, you will first meet with a nurse. The nurse will check your vitals as they would at any other doctor’s appointment, and then you will be taken to the operating room.
There, the surgeon and anesthesiologist will be waiting for you. They will again go over how they’re going to administer the medication and what to expect.
After administering the medication, the anesthesiologist will usually tell you to start counting backward from 100.
Most people will remember counting down 10 seconds or so, and then, next thing they know, they’re awake in the hospital bed.
When you’re under anesthesia, you will “experience” (putting that in quotes because you won’t remember it) the following:
- Unconsciousness – Like you’re in a very, very deep sleep
- Immobility – your body will be unable to move
- Amnesia – You won’t remember a thing about being under
Your anesthesiologist will be present the whole time you are under. They will be monitoring your heart rate, oxygen intake, and vital signs. Once the surgery is complete, the anesthesia will start to wear off, and you will slowly wake up.
Unintended Intraoperative Awareness:
Although very rare, it’s also important to be aware of something called unintended intraoperative awareness.
Basically, this is when someone partially wakes up from their anesthesia during the surgery.
During this partial awake state, they may experience pain, but that is also very rare.
Because of the muscle relaxants patients receive prior to the surgery, they are can’t speak or move. Therefore, they cannot inform their doctors that they are awake or experiencing pain.
This can be a very scary experience, and for some, it can cause some temporary or long-term psychological problems. Most patients who experience unintended intraoperative awareness later experience psychological symptoms similar to PTSD.
However, as we said, your chances of experiencing this are very rare. It occurs in about 1 in every 10,000 surgeries. And, out of that number, most patients do not experience any pain.
Now, let’s get to the fun part: waking up. We’ve all seen David After Dentist (some of us a few too many times), and we know that waking up from anesthesia can be a very interesting (and sometimes hilarious) experience.
But, hilarious videos aside, let’s talk about what you will feel when you wake up from the anesthesia. Everyone experiences different side effects when they wake up, and they experience them at different levels of intensity.
In general, you can expect to feel very “out of it”. In fact, some patients even wake up a bit frightening, forgetting totally where they are for a moment. The “out of it” feeling is also sometimes accompanied by exaggerated behavior, emotionalness, slurred speech, and a general “loopy” behavior” and thought pattern.
And, for patients who are extremely out of it, they sometimes get the added benefit of their friends and family members finding the whole situation absolutely hilarious and filming it. You know, just so they can remind you of your loopy behavior for years to come…
In addition, you may also experience:
- Difficulty urinating
- Soring or bruising from the IV drip
- Vomiting or nausea
- Feeling cold, sometimes to the point of shivering
- A sore throat (from the breathing tube)
In general, most people report a pretty positive overall experience with anesthesia. The whole surgery part goes by in a flash. And save for the more severe side effects, most people find their loopiness to be more funny and interesting than scary or uncomfortable.
Going Under Anesthesia: Are You Ready?
As you can tell, there really isn’t much too going under anesthesia.
You most likely won’t remember anything, and you will wake up a little fuzzy, but generally in a good state.
And, like we talked about at the beginning, the chances of experiencing fatal complications with anesthesia are very, very rare.
If, however, you are still experiencing some anxiety before surgery, be sure to discuss it with your doctor and to check out this article on how to stop an anxiety attack.