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Anesthesia Errors and Unintended Intraoperative Awareness

May 27, 2019 | Anesthesia Error

What is complex about anesthesia is that there are different types of anesthetic drugs, and a cocktail combination of several of these drugs is usually required for a single patient during a single procedure.

Types of Anesthesia

The type of anesthesia selected by your doctor will be dependent on the condition you have, the procedure that is required, as well as your overall health. The types of anesthesia include: 

  • Local Anesthesia: This type of anesthesia is used for minor, common procedures such as when you need stitches. You are fully alert and awake during the procedure, and the anesthesia only numbs the small area of the procedure.
  • IV/Monitored Sedation Anesthesia: This type of anesthesia is used for minimally invasive procedures such as a colonoscopy. Your level of consciousness and alertness ranges from minimal to deep depending on the procedure and the amount of sedation necessary.
  • Regional Anesthesia: This type of anesthesia is used during surgeries of the arm, leg, and abdomen. It is also used during childbirth. You are fully alert and awake during the procedure, but the anesthesia numbs a large part of your body.
  • General Anesthesia: This type of anesthesia is used for major operations such as open-heart surgery. You are fully unconscious and unalert.

Oftentimes, analgesics (pain medications) and paralytics (muscle relaxants) are used alongside general anesthesia.

What is Unintended Intraoperative Awareness?

Unintended Intraoperative awareness is a very rare condition whereby patients who have undergone surgery utilizing general anesthesia become aware or conscious during their surgery. This means that they can recall their surroundings and events related to their surgery but are often unable to communicate this to their surgeon due to the paralytics that may have been given.

This can be extremely upsetting and in rare cases, patients have reported being fully awake and capable of feeling the pain of their surgery whilst being unable to inform their surgeon due to full body paralysis.

Legal Matters

Although extremely rare (1 to 2 people per 1000 operations), unintentional intraoperative awareness does occur, and the emotional damages can be debilitating. Many patients claim that their unintentional intraoperative awareness was caused by medical negligence and thus pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit.

It is crucial to consult with a medical negligence lawyer in such a situation. Unfortunately, because cases of unintentional intraoperative awareness are so rare, it is not yet clear why it occurs and so it is not yet classified as an “anesthesia error.” This is significant, as it affects the validity of your claim and whether you have a viable medical malpractice case or not.

If you consult with a professional NYC medical malpractice attorney, they may be able to help you prove that your unintentional intraoperative awareness occurred as a result of medical negligence. You will then have a valid case of medical malpractice and they will be able to guide you through the entire process that will follow.  


If you believe that you or a family member may have experienced unintentional intraoperative awareness due to medical negligence, please contact the medical malpractice lawyers of Rosenburg, Minc, Falkoff & Wolff LLP in NYC today and speak to one of our medical malpractice attorneys.


When you are ready to talk, we are ready to listen. Call (212) 697-9280 for a free, confidential consultation.