When the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist are negligent and make a mistake during surgery, the patient can experience severe pain and may be left with post-traumatic stress disorder, brain damage or other devastating injuries, including death.

Anesthesia is administered routinely every day in hospitals and medical facilities throughout the country. While the odds of an anesthesia mistake during surgery are very small, thousands of people each year experience anesthesia awareness, a condition where they are awake but unable to move or communicate their pain to the doctor. In addition, there are hundreds of anesthesia-related deaths every year, many of which may have been prevented with the exercise of reasonable care.


Anesthesia awareness is a term used to describe when a patient is awake during surgery, experiencing pain, hearing conversations between doctors, yet completely unable to communicate that they are aware. Before most surgeries involving general anesthetic, individuals are given a paralyzing drug to keep them motionless during surgery. As a result, when the anesthesia is not working they can do nothing to alert the doctors.

It has been estimated that between 20,000 and 40,000 people every year experience anesthesia awareness, with effects ranging from complete consciousness during surgery with feelings of pain and detailed memories, to only having vague recollections of pain, pressure, difficulty breathing or conversations during surgery.

Many victims of anesthesia mistakes experience post-traumatic stress disorder, most of whom never get over the trauma. Problems could include nightmares, insomnia, flashbacks, paranoia and other symptoms which are associated with other traumatic events such as rape.

Anesthesia awareness can be avoided or at least greatly reduced, by the exercise of proper standards of medical care by the anesthesiologist and nurse anesthetist. Anesthesia mistakes resulting in problems during surgery could include:

  • Inadequate drug dosing
  • Poor monitoring
  • Failure to refill the anesthetic machine’s vaporizers
  • Insufficient training
  • Unfamiliarity with techniques used
  • Machine misuse or malfunction


When under anesthesia, the patient places their trust in the anesthesiologist to slow their body down to the point of near death, while controlling the levels to make sure they do not experience pain from the medical procedure. Doctors specializing in anesthesia can make mistakes if they fail to follow the proper standards of medical care.

According to a 2009 study in the medical journal Anesthesiology, there were more than 2,200 anesthesia deaths between 1999 and 2005. Anesthesia was found to be the underlying cause in about 34 deaths every year in the United States and a contributing factor in about 281 other deaths. A little over 46% of the deaths are caused by anesthesia overdose, with the other deaths attributed to different anesthesia complications.


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