“What is it like going under general anaesthetic?” was all I could ask when I found out I had to undergo a ‘minor procedure’.
Some people made faces when I asked, others described in gory detail how they puked up immediately, others said it was a blast. Anyway, I thought I’d add to all that and describe my own experiences. Just in case you’re interested.
The Pre-Surgery Assessment
Two days before my operation was scheduled, I had to head to the hospital for pre-op tests. No one really explained was this was going to be about and so I popped along expecting just blood tests. They end up taking four giant vials of the stuff – supposedly for HB (haeomoglobin count), working out your blood type and for ‘other tests’. Oh, and the fourth was to keep the vampires that secretly run the country happy.
They also take height and weight and, more surprisingly, but reassuringly, they do an ECG (Electrocardiography), a diagnostics requirement to make sure that you’ve not got any heart damage and to assess your heartbeat rate and regularity. It’s non-invasive – you have to strip everything off up top and they apply sticky pads around your chest and also on your ankles. As I understand it, they pass a small electrical current through these points as further reference points.
I was told this whole assessment should take about an hour, but leave 2 hours just in case they’re busy or, in my case, the receptionist forgets to tell the staff you’re here.
The rules of having general anaestetic
- If you’re in the morning slot, no drinking from 4am. And no eating after midnight, otherwise you’ll turn into a gremlin*.
- No moisturizer, no make-up (I managed to sneak in with a smidge of eyeliner). I did ask why and apparently it’s ‘the rules’.
- No nail varnish – they use a device known as an oximeter to measure your blood oxygen levels. This fits over a finger (totally painless) and if you’re wearing nail varnish, it prevents the device working properly. The doctors and nurses also use the colour of your nails to determine health and so must be entirely visible.
- You will have to get a taxi or be driven back. No public transport for you.
- Be prepared to answer the same questions over and over again. When they ask what you’re allergic to, they really don’t want to know about your cat allergy. Or horse allergy, or dog allergy. They do however, want to know if you’re allergic to stuff like latex, penicillin etc.
- When answering all these questions, don’t suddenly change your name halfway through, especially when they’re about to wheel you through to the anaesthetic room. They don’t find this funny.
- You will also have the opportunity to ask questions back. You should have a preliminary meeting with your surgeon and anaethetist. Unfortunately for my anaethetist, I bombarded her with some rather morbid questions.
- You will be given a beautiful gown to wear. In fact, they give you two – one for the front and one for the back.
- You’ll also get a dashing pair of socks (one of the risks about having general anaesthetic is blood clots. These help with circulation.) These are white, tight, come up to your knee and have a hole just under your toes so that if they need to check the colour of your nails, they can. They can obviously check your fingernails but toes may be easier depending on the situation at the time.
- The best item of clothing is your paper pants. These are see-through and baggy and feel like a giant airy nappy.
Top Tip before your operation: Drink as much as you can the night before. You get seriously dehydrated the next day.
What it feels like to have a general anaesthetic
When you’re all donned in your sexy patient gear, you’ll get put onto a bed and taken in the anaesthetic room. This is usually right next to theatre. You’ll then be introduced to the Head Honcho Anaesthetic person who will most likely be lovely. There will also be an anaesthetic assistant and a nurse.
The Head Honcho will insert a cannula into your arm, normally around the hand or wrist. I did ask for numbing cream but apparently this takes an hour to work so I wasn’t allowed. I then asked for ‘cold spray’ but they seemed to not hear me. Anyway, it’s not an issue – I got the nurse and the anaesthetic assistant to sing for me. It was terrible enough to distract me.
The first stage of anaesthesia is known as ‘induction’ and you’ll know when this hits you. Everything gets really spaced out and you don’t really feel attached to your body. It’s quite fun. The second stage is known as ‘excitement’ and really, there’s nothing exciting about it for you. By this point, you’re totally passed out but apparently it involves twitchiness, and potentially irregular heart beats or breathing. This doesn’t last long before you enter stage three – where your muscles relax, your breathing stabilizes and you’re officially ‘under’.
When you’re under, your blood pressure, blood oxygen levels and respiratory rate will be monitored. You’ll also have an airway tube inserted down your throat to help with breathing and also to carry on the anaesthetic – as the one you’re initially given doesn’t last long and so they use gases to keep you under.
The general anaesthetic consists of analgesic (pain relief) and also anaesthetic (temporary reduction of sensation). They also pump you full of anti-sickness drugs too (as apparently a third of people can suffer sickness after).
You will wake up in a ward, approximately 5-10 minutes after you’ve been disconnected from the anaesthetics. At this point, you’ll still be hooked up to a blood pressure machine and oximeter. Again, it’s a bit of an out of body experience. Slightly similar to that dizzy feeling you get when you’re a little bit drunk and you close your eyes. I don’t mind it but I know some hate it.
Later, you’ll get wheeled to a recovery room, offered some water (drink as much as you can!), plus a snack like some biscuits or a sandwich. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can bring in your own picnic too (highly recommend).
As soon as they think you’re well enough (this can be anything from an hour to three – and obviously depends if you’re having day surgery or not), they’ll discharge you, with meds and any details of your follow-up appointment.
I was totally shattered – it really takes it out of you. I was also really thirsty and whilst my mind felt like it was 2 seconds behind everything else, my body was also quite heavy. I was also slightly miffed that they only gave me paracetamol as my pain relief. Where’s the morphine?!!!
Anyway, this is my ‘general anaesthetic’ experience. Good luck if you’ve got an operation coming up and enjoy the sexy socks!*This actually isn’t correct. But you shouldn’t eat as there’s a small risk that if you puke, you’ll choke on what comes up.