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Anesthesiology/feeling of not being able to breathe after waking from surgery

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Sir, this is a similar concern as a previous except mine is when waking up from surgery. Recently I had a surgery and told the anesthesiologist that I had general anesthesia twice before and had a bad experience both times. The first time I woke up during the procedure and the second time as I was waking I had a feeling of not being able to breathe. I mean, I could not inhale or exhale as if my breathing was paralyzed. I told him I did not want that to happen again. It was very concerning! Well, guess what. It happened again this last time. They assured me I was breathing ok and to relax.  I was not breathing ok! I could not get a breath and it felt like I was breathing through very small hole, very, very labored!
After this happened twice in a row, I am scared to death of my next surgery for fear of not breathing. I am not an anxious person and my pain threshold is excellent. There has to be a way to prevent this next time. Can't they allow the paralyzing affect to wear off before I am awakened?
Thank you very much for anything you could offer...Mike

Answer
The paralyzing effect has worn off before you woke up. The problem is that when you have certain types of surgeries (like the ones you've had), they need to put a breathing tube in to help you breathe. That tube is long and narrow and it has been described as like breathing through a straw. Unfortunately, we need to make sure that you are awake enough to protect your airway and breathe on your own before we take it out so there will be a short period of time when you will feel like you can't breathe but, in fact, are breathing fine. Normally the drugs we give you are amnestic but apparently you still remember. The best advice I can give you is to ask for better anxiolysis or try to do the cases under regional. Beyond that, there is no way to avoid the problem.

Ronald Levy, MD
Professor
Department of Anesthesiology
UTMB-Galveston

Anesthesiology

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Ronald Levy, M.D.

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Associate Professor of Anesthesiology, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. I am a board certified anesthesiologist who can answer all questions related to any type of Anesthesia with the exception of Pain Management.

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