The Trauma of Being Awake During Surgery

by John A. Speyrer

"It is not the unknown we fear when we encounter the specter of death,
it is rather what is unconsciously known."


From whence comes the urge to suicide? Innumerable accounts by those in the experiential psychotherapies conclude that its ultimate cause is unprocessed birth trauma.


Tom Breen of the AP recently wrote about a person who eventually killed himself probably because of his having been awake during surgery. Sizemore had experienced what is called, "anesthesia awareness." As in all deep anesthesia he was given paralyzing drugs, but seemingly was not given general anesthesia to make him unconscious until 16 minutes into the procedure when an incision had been made in his stomach and the surgery already begun. Not a rare phenomenon, this lack of being adequately anesthetized in surgery. It happens in this country to an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 persons each year.

Carol Weihrer, president of the Anesthesia Awareness Campaign in Virginia, explained that Rev. Sherman Sizemore's experience was the only occasion that ". . . anyone succeeding in taking their own lives because of this, but suicidal thoughts are not all that uncommon. . ." in those so traumatized. Sizemore, who had no earlier psychiatric problems, had wondered if his experiences had been real or imagined as he had not been told what happened. He could not sleep, feared being left alone, had night terrors and developed delusional paranoia - he believed that people wanted to bury him alive! It was reported that half of these anesthesia victims have mental distress which includes post-traumatic disorder.

Such a person can live his life being depressed or suffer from nervous anxiety with psychosomatic symptoms and not know why. The triggers which finally will cause that person to suicide or wish to suicide are varied. Basically, a present-day emotional upset will trigger the repressed unconscious memory of having almost died during one's birth which is experienced as anxiety and/or depression. Severe fear, pain and terror, also can tap into this particular repressed memory as does being a soldier in a combat situation, having huge financial losses, being diagnosed with a fatal disease, etc.

We can now add another potential trigger to the multiplicity of circumstances which can potentially disturb the equilibrium of one's repressed birth trauma and that is, (although fortunately rare) - being awake during surgery.

Whether or not we become susceptible to the aftereffects of being inadequately anesthetized depends on the severity of the triggering event and its resonance vis vis the feeling content of the severe traumas of one's birth. It is not the unknown we fear when we encounter the specter of death, it is rather what is unconsciously known.

The physical and emotional pain of one's birth trauma can sometimes be so extreme that it can push the fetus itself over the edge and into no longer wanting to live and indeed into a wishing for death. This memory, in the susceptible ones, lays slumbering in our psyche, awaiting the appropriate trigger.

But, enough, as I have of late, already written too much on this subject:


Between the Mattress and the Box Spring: Pressure As Comfort

Chronological and Calendrical Unconscious Memory In Primal-Oriented Psychotherapies

The Aftereffects of Two Unfinished Primal Sessions

On the Fear of Death: On Dying in the Birth Canal

Anticipatory Suffering and Decision Making

The Origins of the Fear of Death and Dying in the Writings of Frank Lake

Another Piece of My Birth Puzzle:
My Mother As God, God As My Mother

Birth Trauma and Pre- and Peri-natal Feelings of Death and Dying:-
First Trimester Intrauterine Trauma and Transmarginal Stress with Paradoxical Reaction: The Theories of Frank Lake, M.D.

Four Therapy Experiences at the 1999 International Primal Association Convention

Primal Therapy: A Persistent New Age Therapy by Martin Gardner in Skeptical Inquiry Magazine - A Review

Birth Trauma and Violent Suicide

Are Inutero Affect and Memory Real?

Cuddling and Touch As Stress Reducers . . . and As Possible Stress Increasers

Strange Encounters: Near Death Experiences and Birth Memories

A Primal Session - Transcript and Comments

Intrauterine Memories of Twinship Experiences

Claustrophobia and the Fear of Death and Dying

Birth Traumas To the Head and Themes of Death & Dying in the Art of Edward Munch

Perinatal Agonies

Hurricanes, Suicides and Birth Trauma

The Origins of the Fear of Female Genitalia

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Resolving Birth Traumas in Primal, Theophostic and Other Experiential Therapies

Crybabies and Birth Traumatized Babies

Million Dollar Baby (fantasy movie review)

Resolving The Rotation Trauma of the Birth Process

On the Origins of the Fear of Dying In the Works of Michael A. Persinger and Others

Intimations of Birth: Traveling and Elevator Rides as Primal Triggers

The Primal Origins of A Stance On Contraception, Abortion, and Overpopulation

The Slow Acceptance of the Reality of Birth Regressions by its Major Theoreticians


Road Rage, Impatience and Ascending Birth Feelings

Pre- and Peri-Natal Environment and Depression in Mothers and Neonates

Migraine Headaches and Adolescent Suicidal Risk

Virginia Tech Terror:
The Terror of Birth and
The Origins of Violence

Panic Attacks: Their Origins, Dangers and Symptoms

Maternal Birth Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Fibromyalgia and the Traumas of Birth

The Janov Solution: Lifting Depression Through Primal Therapy - Book Review

Early Trauma and Adult Pain Perception
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