Posted on 07/20/2021

Can I Sue If I Wake Up During Surgery?

Can I Sue If I Wake Up During Surgery?

If surgery has been recommended to help your medical condition, you may be wondering about anesthesia. 

While many patients are aware that receiving too much anesthesia can result in numerous symptoms or side effects, including hallucinations, dementia, hypothermia, nausea, mental or physical impairment, and even seizures, receiving too little anesthesia can also result in pain and suffering.  

Many patients are concerned they might feel pain during an operation, or worse, they fear they might wake up during surgery.

What is Anesthesia Awareness?

If you wake up during surgery or become otherwise aware of what’s happening during an operation such as feeling physical discomfort or pressure, being aware of conversations in the operating room, etc. you are experiencing “anesthesia awareness.” 

While anesthesia awareness is generally deemed rare, awareness that includes patients experiencing pain is even rarer. 

How Often Does Anesthesia Awareness Occur?

While instances of patients experiencing awareness during a surgical procedure are infrequent, they can result in long-term psychological consequences, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Living with PTSD can be difficult and require assistance from medical professionals.

Anesthesia awareness can occur once in roughly 1,000 cases using general anesthesia for high-risk surgeries, such as cardiac surgeries, cesarean sections performed under general anesthesia, and trauma-related surgical procedures. Lower risk surgeries report a lower incident rate of roughly one per 15,000 cases.

Why Do Patients Wake Up During Surgery?

Anesthesia is a medical specialty requiring careful, accurate calculations, measurements, and decisions. 

Anesthesia awareness can happen if your anesthetist gives you too little anesthesia, if the equipment or tools malfunctions, or other malfunction or errors occur. 

General Anesthesia 

Under general anesthesia, a patient is entirely ‘out’ and under complete sedation, similar to being asleep.

Anesthesiologists must carefully consider a patient’s medical history, current medical condition and overall health. Anesthesiologists must administer the precise amount of anesthesia to ensure patients don’t wake up during surgery. 

If an anesthesiologist fails to determine how quickly a patient will metabolize the anesthetic, it can result in a patient waking up during surgery. 

Preoperative diagnostic tests help anesthesiologists ensure patients get the amount of anesthetic they require. Though because waking up during surgery is rare, industry-wide standardized tests carried out by every hospital or surgical facility doesn’t exist. 

Conscious Sedation 


A patient under conscious sedation will typically be given a combination of sedatives to help patients relax and anesthetics to prevent patients from experiencing pain or discomfort. 

Conscious sedation is often used during minor medical or dental procedures. 

Unlike general anesthesia, during conscious sedation procedures, anesthesiologists may or may not be present. Additionally, the procedure doesn’t have to occur at a hospital; conscious sedation may be used in dental practices, colonoscopies, and related treatments in offices or specialized clinics. 

An anesthesiologist may or may not administer your anesthesia outside of a hospital setting. Assistants or nurse anesthetists can also administer the anesthesia in private or clinical settings. 

Anesthesia miscalculations or errors that result in anesthesia awareness trauma can occur no matter where you are or who’s administering it. 

Can I Sue If I Wake Up During Surgery?

If your anesthesia was improperly administered or the medical equipment used failed to function correctly, you might wake up during surgery. 

When patients wake up during surgery or experience pain, suffering, or damages — including financial damages — because of malfunctioning medical equipment, incorrect medical equipment used, or because the medical professional treating you made mistakes, they can seek compensation through medical malpractice lawsuits.

There’s nothing you could have done to alter the outcome in this situation. It doesn’t have anything to do with your biological makeup or how quickly your body metabolizes the medicine. 

While the physical outcome of your surgery might have been successful, if you wake up during surgery, you might have also suffered unimaginable pain and emotional suffering. You might remember everything that happened during the surgery, even though your vital signs remained within normal ranges, causing the medical team participating in your surgery to believe you were entirely under the influence of anesthetic. 

According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), waking up during surgery can have a lasting impact on patients, including repetitive nightmares, generalized anxiety, and PTSD. 

How Do I Prove Medical Malpractice If I Wake Up During Surgery?

To prove medical malpractice, you must be able to establish three things.

  1. You had a relationship with the anesthesiologist (in other words, you must be able to show you were their patient)
  2. The anesthesiologist failed to act in a manner that another anesthesiologist in a similar situation, with a similar background, would have acted
  3. You experienced injury, harm, or damages — including financial, as a result of the anesthesiologist’s action (or inaction)

Let The Michigan Medical Malpractice Experts At Grover Lewis Help

If you have experienced pain or suffering resulting from too much or too little anesthesia, or if you’ve lost a loved one because of an anesthesia error, reach out to the medical malpractice specialists at Grover Lewis Johnson. 

Medical malpractice claims are unique. It’s important to partner with a sympathetic, passionate, respectful attorney who specializes in medical malpractice. 

We know that no two cases are alike. That’s why we are genuinely interested in your specific situation. We will carefully listen to and evaluate your situation, and if your claim has merit, we will put our 25 years of medical malpractice experience in Michigan to work for you. 

We won’t just meet your expectations; we’ll exceed them. We’ll help you decide which outcome is best for you and your family, whether that’s pursuing your case and bringing it to trial or helping you reach a settlement. We work with you to get the compensation you deserve. Call us today and schedule a free consultation. We’d like to review your case. (And because we work on a contingency basis, you don’t pay any fees until we win.)