A friend sent me an important article about “anesthesia awareness” and the experience of Carol Weihrer, who over twelve years ago woke up during surgery but could not alert anyone because she had been given a drug that paralyzed her. The AolHealth.com article states: “The concern is not so much that a patient has some awareness during surgery but that he or she remembers it later. That memory, particularly if it was a traumatic one like Weihrer’s, can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.” So if one becomes aware during an operation, is stressed by this awareness, and can’t ask for help from anyone, PTSD can result. In fact, Ms. Weihrer can no longer “sleep flat.” She also experiences other symptoms, such as a hyperactive startle response.
I read the article over a month ago but only now have been able to allow myself to connect her experience to my own, thus taking a bigger step in the integration of it. In all likelihood, I did not receive anesthesia for my pyloric stenosis operation in 1952. I may have received a paralytic, such as curare (Chamberlain 7), to immobilize me. Certainly, my artwork points to this very real possibility (see images in previous post “Release” dated Jan. 11, 2010). In Weiher’s article, she says that she felt horror as a result of her becoming aware at a certain point during her surgery. She felt as if she “had died and gone to hell.” As an infant, what had I been thinking and feeling? At three-weeks-old, I had no words. I did, however, have emotions. I certainly had awareness and somatic sensation. I felt pain (Anand et al). How did I integrate this extremely stressful experience? Not very well. My life up until age 26, when I found a therapist who could help me, attests to this. I am only now, at age 57, becoming aware of the nature and extent of the effects of this early assault and what I can do to heal. This subject is quite hard to write about. Breathe, I must remind myself. I am safe now.