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Rainbow City Woman Says She Was Awake During Surgery

By Associated Press

Rainbow City AL – The description of the recently released psychological thriller "Awake" has a rating warning that reads "an intense disturbing situation."

In the film, a heart transplant patient played by Hayden Christensen has "anesthetic awareness" he's fully alert, but paralyzed and can't warn his doctors of his condition.

While most moviegoers will leave with their horror fix for the night, one local woman hopes the movie will shed light on a horror that has haunted her for four years.

On Jan. 19, 2004, Gadsden native Jodie Stanley, now 70 and living in Rainbow City, was set to receive trigger-finger release surgery on her right hand.

She said her physician recommended surgery because the fingers on her right hand were involuntarily clenching and the tendons needed to be repaired.

Stanley was no stranger to surgery, having worked at the hospital as a day surgery nurse for more than 10 years and in a hospital setting for 19 years.

She also had cardiac bypass surgery.

"I had numerous surgeries throughout the years, and I had no reason to be afraid," she said during an interview.

What was supposed to be a short same-day surgery ended up being, literally, a waking nightmare.

"I remember them putting the mask on my face," said Stanley, who was given general anesthesia. "I remember them telling me to take deep breaths.

"Next thing I remember is I woke up."

Stanley said she was awakened by the scrubbing and application of cold chemicals used to clean her hand before the surgery.

Her hand was propped on a table with her hand pointed toward the ceiling, she said.

She couldn't see because her eyes had been taped shut, but she could hear the doctors around her talking. "I still didn't really know what was going on," Stanley said. "Then, I realized they hadn't done my surgery.

"I thought first to let somebody know."

But she couldn't because she had a tube down her throat, also a common practice.

"I was panicking and thinking, `Oh, my God, what am I going to do?'" Stanley said.

She said she tried to move her toes and her fingers, anything to let them know she was still awake.

Her anxious thoughts soon were replaced by pain as she felt the flesh of her hand being cut.

"I felt the cut," she said. "The pain, I can't really describe it.

"You really have to experience to really know how it felt. It was like a blow torch. Then, I felt them digging their instruments to go deeper."

The surgeon made two incisions in her palm. Her vital signs blood pressure, heart rate, etc. never spiked or registered anything abnormal.

She said she "blacked out" at some point, but is unsure if she was given some medication or if it was from the pain.

"I was hysterical and crying," she said. "The anesthesiologist said, `You were just dreaming.'

"I said, `No, it wasn't a dream (and) I felt the surgery.'"

She said the staff members also told her she had been left in recovery a half hour longer because they'd had difficulty waking her after the procedure.

Stanley said she had not received a formal apology from the hospital which she didn't want named or any officials for her traumatic experience.

The day of her surgery, Stanley said she called her daughter, Catherine, who, coincidentally, had just watched a television program, "When Anesthesia Fails," on the Discovery Channel about patients who had experienced anesthesia awareness.

After speaking with her mother, Catherine contacted Carol Weihrer, the president and founder of Anesthesia Awareness Campaign Inc.

"She called me back two days later," Catherine said.

Weihrer speaks around the country including anesthesiologist conventions and numerous talk shows and overseas about her anesthesia awareness experience.

Weihrer said Anesthesia Awareness Campaign Inc. is an international nonprofit patient advocacy organization that seeks to help, validate and provide resources to victims.

Weihrer became an advocate after waking during a five-and-one-half hour surgery to remove her right eye in 1998.

"We want to convince the (American Society of Anesthesiologists) that this is real and it is happening," she said during a phone interview.

According to, there are no exact numbers available to gauge the frequency of anesthetic awareness during general anesthesia cases, but estimates have ranged from 0.2 percent to 0.7 percent, or as high as 40,000 incidents annually.

The two types of anesthetic awareness, or intraoperative awareness, that can occur under general anesthesia are anesthetic awareness with explicit recall and anesthetic awareness with implicit recall. With explicit recall, a patient's memories can range from virtually every word and action of operating room personnel to only a few selected recollections.

Implicit recall occurs indirectly through painful psychological difficulties that happen following surgery, including sleep disturbances, nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety.

Stanley's days following the incident were filled with bouts of crying, anxiety and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

She agreed to see a psychologist after prompting from her family but quit after her initial visit.

"She asked me if (the cutting) felt like a paper cut. I didn't go back after that," said Stanley, who also briefly took antidepressants following the surgery. "But, I wasn't going to let this ruin my life."

Catherine said her mother experiences dramatic mood shifts and was forever changed from the surgery.

"You can tell sometimes when you're talking to her that she's not there," she said. "She's talking to you, but her mind is somewhere else.

"Living with her day-to-day, it all comes back. All of your family is affected by it. Hopefully, something can be done to keep this from happening.

"The person she was to who she is now is totally different."

Catherine said even though her mother wasn't, she still was angry with the hospital, which she claims never really admitted to any wrongdoing.

"They just need to acknowledge it," she said. "It is a problem that certainly needs to be addressed.

"I'm very angry for them taking my mother away. ... It's not right."

All three women advocate the use of bi-spectral index monitors for anesthesia patients to prevent incidents like this from happening.

According to data posted on the Aspect Medical Systems' Web site which manufactures BIS monitors BIS works by using a sensor that is placed on the patient's forehead to measure electrical activity in the brain.

This is translated into a number between 100 wide awake and zero, which indicates an absence of brain activity.

One of the arguments against the use of the equipment is it is not 100 percent accurate some studies register it at 80 percent and above.

The rest is political, Weihrer said.

"Eighty percent plus is a lot better than nothing," she said. "There's technology out there, and you're not using it to help you.

"It's more like (anesthesiologists say), `I'm not going to have a machine tell me what to do.'"

Stanley is hoping the opening of "Awake" in theaters and the media coverage of anesthesia awareness that will follow will get others to speak out.

"I would hope people would come forward and write editorials about it if it happened to them. I have no ill feelings to anyone," said Stanley, who has been interviewed by CNN, the Washington Post and U.S. News and World Report.

"I just want people to let someone know even if their doctors may have told them they were crazy or it was a dream."

Stanley said hospital staff told her it was possible her "anesthesia canister was dry," which led to her still being awake during the surgery.

"I don't think I'll ever get over it," she said. "My goal is to let people know what's happening. I honestly think it's meant for me to tell people about this."

Weihrer said victims of anesthetic awareness should not see "Aware" by themselves.

Weihrer, who saw the film twice, recommends a close family member or friend view it first and make a judgment call.

She said some of the scenes are disturbing. She found she still had repressed emotions about her experience.

"I let out an involuntary scream the second time I saw it," she said. "... I do not recommend victims see this movie alone."

Catherine said she watched the trailer for "Awake" and was emotionally affected by the first 90 seconds.

"It's the graphic part of what these victims are reliving every day," she said. "If that's what it feels like, what she went through, it's not good."

However, she said she hopes the movie will cause a national dialogue and spark debate in the medical community about preventing anesthesia awareness.

"That seed is going to be planted in (moviegoers') minds," Catherine said. "It's like when you see `Jaws.' When you go swimming, you think about sharks being in the water.

"I hope it will wake people up."

On the Net:

Anesthesia Awareness Campaign Inc.


Information from: The Gadsden Times,

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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