3 Of The Most Common Anesthesia Fears Debunked

By: Becky Walton, RN, Pre-Admission Testing

In preparing patients for scheduled surgeries, I hear often hear the common statement from patients, "I'm more scared about the anesthesia, than the surgery."

Because this is a common fear that many patients share, let's take a closer look at anesthesia and learn about how your anesthesia team works to ensure your safety during surgery.

Fear #1: I'm scared I won't really be asleep and surgery will still take place.

You will be relieved to know that this situation is an extremely unlikely event. Your anesthesia team has scientific ways to measure the depth of your anesthesia and keep you from being aware during surgery. In the operating room, a machine measures the amount of anesthesia medicine being breathed in and out, and the anesthesia team is focused entirely on your safety and comfort during the operation.

As Stephen Kushins, MD, an anesthesiologist with Gwinnett Medical Center explains:

We know it takes approximately x amount of inhaled anesthetic medicine to keep an average person unaware of surgery and about 3 times that much to keep them from moving in response to surgical stimulation. A person loses awareness long before they lose reflexes.

In order to make sure that the person is both unaware and unable to reflexively move, we use around 5 times that much medicine for surgical anesthesia doses. This amount of medicine even prevents cardiac reflexes from being triggered, helping to prevent blood pressure and heart rate from rising in response to the operation itself.

While different people require different doses of anesthesia, the fact that the surgical anesthesia dose is about 5 times more than the amount to make the average person unaware makes it extremely unlikely you will be aware of anything during surgery.

Fear #2: I'm scared I won't wake up.

Simplistically, anesthesia medicines effect electrical signals in the nervous system to produce the desired effects of loss of awareness, movement, memory and sensation of pain. 

There are also anesthesia drugs, called reversal agents, that counteract the original drugs’ actions, and cause you to wake up when the time is right. Also, anesthesia medicines given to you in gas form lose their effects as they are washed out of the lungs by switching over to inhaled oxygen at the end of surgery. 

Furthermore, some medications work for a very short amount of time and are given repeatedly during surgery to maintain their effects. Once these short-acting medications are stopped, their effects wear off very quickly. So, the same science that allows you to go to sleep for surgery allows the medicines to be reversed so you can wake back up. 

Fear #3: I'm afraid to lose control.

Losing control can be a hard thing for many people. Dr. Kushins explains it this way, “Every time you get on a bus or airplane, you give up power and control to trained professionals.  Anesthesia care is very similar.”

You can rest assured knowing that the anesthesia experts at Gwinnett Medical Center are licensed, trained and certified to perform their jobs as effectively as possible. Your safety and comfort are their top priorities. 

A final tip, and one of the most important to remember: if you’re scared, express your feelings to your pre-operative team, even if you feel silly. Sometimes just saying your worries out loud helps you to conquer your fear.

In addition, if your medical team is aware of your feelings, we can provide knowledge and encouragement to help you feel more comfortable and prepared. Our goal in Surgical Services is to provide with you with the best experience possible, and it is our pleasure to take care of you.

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