A woman who woke up while surgeons were preparing to remove her appendix has described the terrifying moment she realised what was happening.
Alexandra Bythell had been given anaesthetic drugs and was about to undergo surgery at Burnley General Hospital when she awoke to hear doctors discussing the operation. "I woke up and thought I was in recovery, everything was black", she told ITV Daybreak.
"I started trying to breathe and that was when I knew something was wrong because I couldn't get any air into my chest. Because the tube was breathing for me."
She had her eyes taped and had breathing tubes in her throat as medical staff prepared to remove her appendix. The East Lancashire Hospital NHS Trust has since apologised and paid undisclosed damages for her psychological trauma.
"I can remember it very clearly. I just remember thinking if I don't get air into my chest I am going to die. And I was just gasping for breath and I couldn't get any. That was all I kept thinking, that I was going to die if I don't breathe," she told ITV.
Mum Alexandra said she felt medical staff touching her abdomen and heard them talking about cutting her open: "At that point I thought: this is it they're going to start operating. And then they started marking out with a pen as to where they were cutting."
"And at that point I thought they were cutting me open."
Following the operation Alexandra attempted to tell staff that she had been awake but was told it was her "imagination" because of the anaesthetic. "As soon as I told them word for word what they'd said they started to panic and the machine was sent away for independent testing straight away", she said.
She was later incorrectly told that the anaesthetic machine was faulty.
A Critical Incident Report by the hospital later concluded that it was human error in not checking a vaporiser, which was empty, rather than a fault on the machine.
Alexandra has since suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the incident and experiences nightmares and panic attacks. She was off work sick for four months after the operation in September 2010, her legal team said.
Dr Ian Stanley, Interim Executive Medical Director at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, told the BBC: "We are very sorry for the distress experienced by Ms Bythell.”
“We are pleased that a settlement has now been agreed and procedures have been put in place to reduce the chance of this happening again."