Sometimes, the experience is nothing more than a vague, post-surgery recollection of the doctor gathering the nurses around your genitals while laughing and taking pictures. But in almost half of anesthesia awareness cases in which the patient survived to tell the tale, they reported full consciousness and feeling the cold steel cutting into their flesh. One of those patients, Carol Weihrer, is in the unenviable position of knowing what it feels and looks like to have your eye removed, because she woke up during her 1998 procedure. You might say that she had a front row seat.
How worried should you be? Well, they say the chances of waking up paralyzed under anesthesia are about 0.2 percent, but they can rise almost tenfold for higher-risk operations such as cardiac surgery. In case you missed that, the surgeries that are most likely to kill you are also the most likely to ensure that, "So that's what it feels like to have a complete stranger wrist-deep inside of me," is the last thought that ever crosses your mind. In fact, we actually don't know how common it is, because gathering those statistics depends entirely upon how many patients survive to complain about it afterward. And, like many nightmarish experiences, it's thought to be vastly underreported because of sheer trauma.
There are some ways to monitor anesthesia awareness, such as with EEG, which checks brain activity for signs of incomparable horror, but the system isn't perfect. The main problem is with the hospitals that refuse to study the issue or even acknowledge how frequent it is, probably because no one would sign a hospital waiver if it included the phrase "may experience horrors the likes of which you are powerless to imagine."