For me, anesthesia is the worst part of having surgery of any kind. For some reason, whenever I wake up from anesthesia I start crying and sometimes have a panic attack. I know this about myself. It happened for the first time after my first serious surgery when I had my ankle repaired in 2004. I woke up from this outpatient surgery in a curtained off “room” by myself. My mom had come with me so I called out for her and as soon as she was by my side I was able to calm down. Ever since then, when I have any kind of anesthesia I warn the doctor’s and make sure that whichever family member is with me can be there when I wake up from anesthesia.
This time I told every doctor, nurse, and tech I was introduced to the morning of my surgery. They told me Erik probably wouldn’t be with me when I woke up. Their recovery area is very strictly controlled, we were told. Family members are not usually allowed in there. The staff of the acute care unit (ACU) would not let him in, but would notify him when I was out of surgery. I wasn’t happy about it, but there was nothing we could do.
Inevitable Mental Health Consequences of Anesthesia
As expected, when I woke up in the ACU with only strange faces above me, I started to cry. The nurse stood over me telling me I was fine, the surgery was over, and that I was in recovery, but I was confused and traumatized and she only made it worse. I started to have a panic attack and instead of bringing my husband to me, they gave me drugs to calm me down.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not above anti-anxiety meds. I have used them in the past and I’m sure I’ll use them in the future. What I am opposed to is using meds when there is something else that can be done to mitigate symptoms. All I needed was my husband to be the first face I saw when I woke up, but that wasn’t allowed because of the ACU’s policy’s. In this case, policy was put above patient care.
As I mentioned yesterday, my experience at St. Joe’s was fantastic. Everyone we met (almost) was kind, compassionate, and accomodating. This was the one glitch in their patient care system.
On the best of days, anesthesia can have mental health side effects for anyone. For people who experience mental health challenges normally, anesthesia is much more likely to cause bouts of anxiety and depression. This has always been my experience. In addition to the trauma of surgery knocking me off my game, anesthesia always makes it more difficult for me to recover.
Advocate for Your Needs
Even though advocating for my needs didn’t work out this time, I will continue to do it in the future. As I have mentioned before, it is so important for those of us who struggle with mental illness to be our own best advocates. We need to know more about our illness than anyone else, and especially know more about what helps us when we are struggling.