Man awake during heart surgery

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The Independent Online
A PATIENT has received pounds 9,000 in compensation because he was awake during a seven-hour heart bypass operation.

Norman Dalton, 55, an electrician from Leeds, remembers many details of his surgery at Leeds General Infirmary. 'I felt my chest being cut open and blood being mopped away. I heard and felt the saw cutting through my chest bone.

'I could feel every cut and saw the doctors made. I couldn't scream out to tell. I think I was trying, but I just couldn't move. It was like a living nightmare - I was asleep but at the same time awake,' he said yesterday. 'All the time I could hear voices and I tried somehow to signal that I was not properly sedated - but I was quite powerless and absolutely terrified.'

It took him 10 months to recover from the trauma and the hospital assigned a psychiatric nurse to help him through the stress.

Mr Dalton said: 'I couldn't go back to work. I couldn't concentrate. I couldn't work with power tools. If it made the sound or the sort of sensation and vibration of being operated on it made me feel petrified.

'That's quite difficult when you're an electrician.'

'People have said to me that I should be grateful that the operation saved my life. I am grateful, but I should not have had to go through that terrible nightmare.'

The compensation was paid as a settlement by the United Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust last month. Mark Lancaster, a spokesman, said: 'This was a very unfortunate incident and we apologise to Mr Dalton. The operation went very well but it appears that he became conscious and was able to sense things that were happening to him.'

Dr Gareth Jones, Professor of Anaesthesia at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, has estimated that in about 200 of the 2.5 million operations each year in the UK - 0.008 per cent - the patients are 'wide awake' and feeling pain. Of those some 30 or 40 probably sought redress from the hospitals or through the courts. In the 1950s and 1960s the number awake was 3 to 5 per cent, Professor Jones said.

Anaesthetic problems, page 2