I have a vivid memory from Grade 9 of a Vincent Price recording, reading a short story about a man who everyone thinks is dead – but is just paralyzed and unable to communicate his consciousness – and ends up sealed and screaming in a coffin. It is a terrifying notion played out in our nightmares, a fear like no other…and according to a news story circulated some years ago, there is a possibility attached to it at least during surgery.
Patients say it feels like being trapped in a corpse: They awake during surgery, unable to move or scream. Anesthesia awareness occurs in 1 or 2 of every 1,000 surgical patients — possibly more often in children — and is thought to happen to roughly 30,000 Americans each year. Some just have fleeting memories of things they heard, but others describe “white-hot pain” and terror, triggering long-term emotional problems.Carol Weihrer said she heard the doctor give instructions: “Cut deeper, pull harder.” “I actually saw them cut the optic nerve when everything went black,” I was thinking, praying, cursing, plotting, pleading, trying to crawl off the gurney, trying to kick, scream, move any part of my body to let them know I was awake. I was entombed in my corpse.” Kathy LaBrie also suffered awareness during surgery, hearing “the sound of pushing and grinding and the surgeon talking to the nurses about the kind of car he had. … I tried moving my arms and legs — I couldn’t do anything. I thought I was dying.”