It’s one of our worst nightmares: being awake during surgery. But anesthesia doesn’t work for everybody. The people this has happened to say the pain isn’t the worst part, although that can be excruciating. It’s the horror of being paralyzed and unable to talk to the surgeon, while being completely aware of what he’s doing to you. Some patients describe it as like being buried alive.

It’s not all that rare: it happens in about one out of every thousand operations. Rachel Nowak writes in New Scientist that a simple device called a BIS monitor can cut the number of these cases by 80%–but most anesthetists don’t use it because they underestimate the possibility of a patient remaining awake.

Even when anesthesia works, many patients have fleeting memories of their operations. Because of this, doctors have been cautioned not to tell dirty jokes or make personal comments about the patient during the operation, as these are sometimes remembered.

The BIS monitor will soon become a standard part of operating room procedure because insurance companies will insist on it, to ward off potential lawsuits.

On this week’s Dreamland, learn about the mysterious Cross in the town of Hendaye which reveals information about the changes we face right now and where and how to survive them.

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