Alhumdullilah! My surgery was successful, as expected. Twenty-four hours later, I am much better, with very little pain, and able to type!

Just before administering anesthetic, the anesthesiologist will ask the patient to imagine him/herself in a relaxing, happy setting. My doctor told me the reason for this, and it’s not simply to make a little joke before surgery. According to my anesthesiologist, there is an approximate thirty-second window between wakefulness and full anesthetic stupor. The mental state of the patient during this very short time can help determine whether the patient has a smooth or a rocky post-anesthetic recovery.  All patients have some degree of anxiety before surgery, but if they can conjure up a happy image just before konking out, they’ll wake up more easily and feel better during the immediate post-op recovery.

So, in the OR, my doctor said to me, “Now is the time I want you to think of a lovely place, a place in which you are happy and comfortable. Everything went all right. We’re finished. You are awake now.”

I was confused. I picked up the blanket with my left hand and was amazed to see my right forearm all bandaged nearly to the elbow!

I perceived his statements back to back, as if no time passed between them. In fact, the surgery took the exact forty-five minutes my surgeon had predicted.  I felt great. In fact, I missed the little day dream I had prepared for myself, that of being at my daughter’s house, playing with my little grandchild. I hope I at least said, “Bismillah.”

Medical science does not know how anesthesia works at the molecular level. It’s more about consciousness than neurology. The topic has been bothering me all day.

Anesthesia is not like sleep.  From sleep, you wake up knowing that some time has passed.  You wake up feeling differently than you did upon going to sleep. You may remember a dream, or at least the sense that you did dream.

From anesthesia, you wake up before you know you’ve been gone. What happens? Where does consciousness go? The answers that suggest themselves are disturbing for someone like me, of little faith, and in need of proof.



About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
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21 Responses to Anesthesia

  1. birdpress says:

    I’m glad your surgery was successful!

    I found your thoughts about anesthesia fascinating. I didn’t know about the loss of a sense of time during anesthesia. Some may say that time is a sort of illusion anyway, so that’s another thing to figure into the consciousness question. Very interesting!

  2. Safiyyah says:

    Salaams Sis:

    Alhamdulillah that you are OK and came through it well.

  3. Marahm says:

    Thank you, birdpress and Safiyyah, for your concern and comments.

    As for time as an illusion, well, hm…. that’s an interesting suggestion. Time has been proven to be relative, so maybe it has other characteristics of which we are still ignorant. Probably, it does, but consciousness is the ultimate mystery– especially as it relates to spiritual life.

  4. coolred38 says:

    We count the passing of time with visual aids…the sun moving across the sky…the second hand rotating around the watch…the seasons changing…our faces aging in the mirror etc. Its all visual…so when we are knocked out during surgery there are no visual aids to tell us that time is passing. Even in dreams whiles sleeping there is action…so time is passing…so without anything to show us that time has passed…we wake up feeling exactly as we did 45 minutes ago.

    Sorry…my humble theory. Nice blog btw and glad your surgery was a success.

  5. ~W~ says:

    Alhamdulillah your surgery was successful. I am gald to see you are back with another insightful post.
    I had surgery 4 weeks ago. It lasted for 2 hours then I spent 3 hours in recovery because I was still too sleepy to go back to the room. I did not feel the time at all. But this is a blessing in a way.

  6. Hi Marahm!
    I am so happy to hear that your surgery went so well and you are already typing! That’s really fast!!! You’ve been on my mind and it’s a relief to know that everything went well.
    I’ve had the same experience as you described with anesthesia – it’s as if no time passed – that it was instant. It’s wierd!

  7. Shahrzad says:

    Alhamdulilah for your surgery. And i am happy it went well for you.

    I actually went through Anesthesia for surgery 3 times. And in one of them i almost died.. All of them were great experiances indeed..

    I pray you recover soon too.. 🙂

  8. Marahm says:

    coolred38: Interesting observations, and true, yet I sense a quality in anesthesia that stands apart from the lack of visual cues marking the passage of time.

    ~W~: I hope you are recovered from your surgery by now. That was a big one! Yes, it is a blessing to be absent from your own life for certain times.

    susie: Thank you!

    Shahrzad: Almost died? Great experiences? I’d certainly like to know more. Have you cosidered posting an account of it?

    Well, Friends, I’ve already typed too much for one day, and I’m started to feel a little pang around the incision, so I think I’ll go have my morning coffee and give my hand a rest.


  9. Marahm says:

    Thank you for this link, Shahrzad. I encourage anyone who has read this far to click on it, and read this most honest, simple account of a profound experience that few people come back to tell about.

  10. Solace says:

    Your thoughts on anesthesia is fascinating.

    I hope your recovery will go as smoothly as your operation, Insha’Allah.

  11. Marahm says:

    Thank you, Solace. I appreciate your comment.

    I continue to recover, alhumdullilah, and I am tempted to use my hand more than I am supposed to.

    I have two weeks off work, and I plan to write, write, write…

  12. Omar says:

    Well, glad your surgery went well and that all is well… Having gone two surgeries in my life it is so true in a way, I never really thought of how you wake up without that sense of time, taking ages just to even realize you just had a surgery and that you are in a hospital rather than in your bed… It is fascinating, yet scary at the same time

  13. Marahm says:

    Thanks, Omar. Yes, the experience of anesthesia and surgery is a little scary, not physically (at least for me) but pychologically, as I am drawn towards questions of ultimate meaning in life, and that includes what happens after death. Anyone who doesn’t feel a little fear should consider whether whether they really have a grasp on the subject, but, does anyone? Really?

    BTW, I love your description of yourself on your blog!

  14. My first time being knocked out was having my four wisdom teeth taken out at the same time. It’s funny you mentioned the time lapse before being put out. I had to have laughing gas for the first time so I wouldn’t feel the needles used to put me out (as i freak out for needles) and to keep from laughing hysterically i kept telling myself to remeber the (Current then) lebanese war happening. it did sober me not to laugh only a smile couldn’t be erased. Then after I felt the needle do in all I heard was the nurses gossiping and me thinking great all i hear before unconciousness is gossip ugh..nothing nice or reasuring…. then I expected to wake up on the table in the future and woke up climbing into my father’s truck. Somehow still Mentally unaware I was taken off the bed and put in a wheel chair and taken out to the car and then climbed inside it before me real mind took over…soo weird not to have been there for a few moments of my own life. My dad told me how I got to the car. Very creeepy. Subhan’Allah. It’s really interested me about your saying the diffferences between slepeing and being knocked out I wonder if you can find more about that. I was just readig in the qur’an about the difference between death and sleeping…. I wonder how anasthesia works in there.
    I’m glad to see you got through your surgery well and that you are typing fine! Subhan’Allah science has discovered so much yet so little in the great vast KNOWLEDGE of ALLAH.

  15. Brandon M says:

    Thank you for sharing! I am very afraid to be induced with anesthetics even though one day perhaps I will have no choice. I have this phobia that we cease to exist when we die and the blackness under this procedure seems in someways similar to this non-existance. The only thing that has given me some hope in the possibility that the mind doesn’t turn off during this procedure is that studies have shown that if probed within the first hour of the surgery, patients usually remember dreaming. Another consolation for me is we are suppose to not remember anything at all even if something did happen because a retroactive effect of anesthetics is amnesia, so something could very well be going on that we do not recall when the procedure is over! Nice website by the way!

  16. Marahm says:

    Welcome to the blog, Brandon, and thank you for your compliment and comment. Your phobia- that we cease to exist when we die, and that the anesthetic experience mimics this non-existence– is perfectly reasonable. In fact, I’d hardly call it a phobia. I’d call it a sensible perspective.

    Indeed, when one experiences the power of pharmaceuticals, one must wonder what the human being is made of, and what, exactly, is the mind, the heart, the spirit, and the connection of all of this to the body?

    On some level, the best thing to do is accept it at face value, give in, and enjoy your convalesence!

  17. Brandon M says:

    Thank you for such an enlightening reply and thank you for visiting my Blog (which is more like a journal that rarely gets updated!!!)

  18. Dan says:

    The mind devides during anastesia. The two halves cannot function without each other. The concious mind (when seperated from the subconcious mind) has no memory (ie. database) to extrapulate and define stimuli. Therefore it cannot make associations, or even acknowledge the passage of time. It simply blacks out. Like wise, the subconcious mind cannot store memories of the operation without the concious mind feeding it real-time stimuli. The last thing it records is the pre-op scenario. The end result is what you experienced.

  19. Marahm says:

    Dan, welcome to the blog, and thanks for your interesting analysis of what happens to the mind during anesthesia. Consicousness is just the surface area of the mind, so to speak, and one must wonder at what lies beneath. In any event, a separation of sorts surely seems necessary, and that’s not hard to understand. What is harder to understand is that anesthesia is totally reversible!

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