December 08, 2023

Major Mom Guilt

I was planning to do a Friday Night Photos today, but something horrible happened this morning and I have had a really bad day.

Eli was scheduled this morning to have his wisdom teeth extracted. They were impacted (hadn't surfaced yet) so it required surgery with general anesthesia. I know the surgery is usually no big deal--it's super common--so I wasn't worried about it. I had it done when I was 16 and I don't remember much at all.

Yesterday, Eli begged me not to make him get them removed. But the dentist had said it was necessary because they were going to start pushing his other teeth together. So, I told him he had to do it. We were told he'd be under general anesthesia, so he would be unconscious during surgery--he would go to sleep, not feel a thing, then wake up and it'd be over.

He was mostly worried about the recovery afterward because he said his friends said it was awful. But I reassured him it would be fine. Yesterday, I even went out and bought him soft foods he'd like, including THREE containers of ice cream. He was NOT happy the whole way to the surgeon's office today because he just didn't want this surgery. (understandable)

After the surgery, the staff told me everything went great, and I could pull around to the back of the office to pick him up from the back. As soon as I saw him, I could see that his eyes had tears and he was trying really hard not to cry. When he got in the car, he was crying as hard as he could in the condition he was in. He couldn't talk, so I asked him lots of yes or no questions to figure out what the problem was. I never expected the answer.

He woke up during the surgery and was awake for the rest of it.

He remembers the staff talking to each other and what they said; he remembers the sound and feeling of the equipment they used. He remembers excruciating pain. He was trying to wave his hands and feet and blink his eyes to let them know he was awake, but he had to endure the rest of the surgery like this.

I'm sobbing as I write this because I feel like the worst mom on the planet. I hate that while he begged me not to make him do it, I then it did anyways because I thought I was doing the best thing for him. And because of that, he went through horrible pain and is now traumatized. He can't stop thinking about the experience. And now he'll probably never trust me again. The guilt I feel is killing me.

When I talked to the office staff (and even the doctor) I was told that it's common for patients to "hallucinate" and imagine things while under the anesthesia. I know my kid and there is no fucking way that he hallucinated what he described to me.

I'm not sure what to do from here. Is this considered malpractice? Should I pursue this further? The office staff treated it like it was totally normal, no big deal. Am I making too big a deal about this? My biggest hope right now is that he loses the memory of it. And that he will trust me again someday.

Anyway, that's what's going on right now. Noah is supposed to have his wisdom teeth removed too, and I have no idea what to do about that. I am 100% certain I will never go to the surgeon Eli went to.

Has anyone else experienced this? Thoughts? Do I just let this go?


  1. My sister was awake during anesthesia too. She told her doctor afterwards, and was told she was hallucinating or dreaming. Then my sister repeated the entire conversation that had taken place during surgery. Now she tells every anesthesiologist that it takes a bigger dose to keep her asleep. It’s never happened again!

  2. This isn't your fault. There are always risks associated with anesthesia and I'm really sorry Eli experienced this and the office wasn't more sympathetic. Malpractice insurance and self-preservation cause responses like the one you received. Not having his wisdom teeth out could have made a much worse problem down the road so your decision was the right one. You didn't make any of this happen and I'm pretty sure your son knows that. Now you know he has an issue with anesthesia so you can ensure this doesn't happen again. Hugs.

  3. I had this happen to me during a colonoscopy. I couldn’t feel anything but I could hear them talking and I could see the screen they were looking at to view my colon. It wasn’t traumatic for me though, just a weird experience. I totally could have been dreaming or hallucinating it, but as soon as they finished and started putting things away, I was wide awake. I started talking to the doctor and received an expected diagnosis while I was on the table and in what felt like minutes of them finishing up. They even let me get up and start getting dressed as soon as they rolled me into recovery. It could be that he was so anxious about having the surgery that he did hallucinate it. I feel for him and hope he’s okay once he recovers from the surgery.

  4. I am devastated this happened to you both. I am so sorry. I can't even imagine the trauma... I totally get the mom guilt. My daughter underwent a routine surgery to fix a heart issue. It wasn't urgent, but more about convenience to her daily life. On the table, in the operative room, she sobbed and begged me not to make her go under anesthesia. She was supposed to be drugged enough at that point to not know what was going on or to remember. She remembered the entire thing (not surgery, but right up to it). I was inconsolable, sobbing hysterically in the hallway. It was excruciating. She forgave me, but the sheer terror on her face will haunt me forever. I was afraid she'd never trust me again, either. She does, though, and so will Eli. You couldn't have known 💕 He will understand that. I would probably go after them in some way. For SURE, you shouldn't have to pay for that experience.

  5. I don't know what to say about pursuing legal action, but I do think this happens with some frequency. I woke up during a colonscopy and was actually given the option to stay awake or be put under...I ended up watching the procedure because it wasn't very painful, so that was a different situation and at least the doctors were aware that I was awake and I was acknowledged. When someone is under general anesthesia, they should be monitored constantly - an anesthesiolgist should be watching your vitals, including your heart rate to see if it goes up at all, since that is a sign people are feeling pain. Vitals are supposed to be recorded on a patient's record every 5 minutes during a procedure, so maybe you can call and request this info (assuming it was documented properly) to see if his heart rate is elevated at any point?

    Try to remember that this wasn't your fault at all - having to have emergency surgery because his impacted teeth became infected would be much worse. If he develops PTSD from this you might look for a good trauma therapist...My daughter went through EMDR to help her process a trauma that happened and it has been a huge help to her. Best wishes.

  6. Oh my word! My thought is if it's common for them to "hallucinate" or "imagine things" ... then it would have been something that would have been discussed before the procedure. I mean.... did you hallucinate when you had any of your surgeries? I hope some of your readers or friends are in the dental field and can give you a little guidance on this.

  7. Katie - I talked to my oral surgeon (son) who said yes it can happen. It is rare but it can especially if the anesthesiologist isn't closely monitoring while working (most oral surgeons also do their own anesthesia.) He said to get copies of the forms you signed - or Eli signed - and see if the POSSIBILITY of anesthesia not working was covered. Again, it usually is in there to avoid claims later if it fails. I am so sorry this happened and you should most definitely NOT go back to that surgeon for your other son.

  8. I’ve heard of this happening. It’s awful. They give patients something to paralyze them during surgery so that’s why your son was unable to move.

    I’m sure what happened is real. I’m not sure if they did anything wrong or not. I don’t know if this is something the anesthesiologist should have been able to figure out from his heartbeat or some other sign.

    Please do some research. It’s a real thing. I’m so sorry this happened to your son. 😞

  9. I think the fact that he remembers what they said during the surgery indicates that it wasn't a hallucination. Perhaps call again and just state that you're still quite concerned - that you know it's not a hallucination bc of what was said during the procedure and go into that with details. Though stressful I'd have him type up what he heard in detail while it's still fresh in his mind. Even if the paperwork indicates that waking up from anesthesia might happen, to be dismissed outright isn't the way a caring office would handle this.

    The same day I had my wisdom teeth removed years ago, the other patient in there at the time died from anesthesia mishandling or whatever you'd call it. I went to a different oral surgeon for a follow up.

  10. That sounds like it was a horrible experience. However, I don't think that you should take ownership of it. There are medically necessary surgeries, and God forbid, if something goes wrong in one, the responsibility for it does not go to the parent or sibling or good friend that provided encouragement and support before the procedure. No matter what action you take regarding this one, the information is valuable, as the person above commented, so in future procedures the anesthesiologist can be made aware of this potential issue.

  11. You can try to sue the oral surgeon, but good luck with that. You'd need to get a personal injury lawyer and then prove that the doctor (oral surgeons generally give their own anesthesia) was negligent and that he had suffered harm from the negligence. You might want to read the papers he signed (he's an adult, isn't he?) it probably very specifically told you about what happens during anesthesia. Both my kids had theirs removed when they were minors, and I stayed in the room until they were asleep, and was brought in when they woke up. Might want to do some research into a better oral surgeon.

  12. That really is awful, and it's awful the office denied it. Yes definitely follow up. From what I've read about this, your son would likely benefit from trauma counseling. Best wishes to you both.

  13. You can't feel for your child, but it is not your guilt. This was a necessary procedure and things happened. Let him feel his pain and process it. There is nothing to be done now - move forward and heel. If he is to attach this bad experience to every other procedure he will need in his life; it could be disastrous- so you as his mother need to help him through this; but not by making it more than it needs to be.

    1. This is excellent advice. I have had horrendous experiences with medical procedures, but there's often nothing to be done but be glad one got through it.

  14. Oh my gosh Katie how awful for both Eli and your family! But please don't take any of the blame for this! I know mom guilt is real and it's deep but trust me, the wisdom teeth need to come out! He could have had bigger problems down the road. But I do think some follow up is needed with this office. They shouldn't brush you off the way you did and yes perhaps some counseling for Eli? Please keep us updated on how Eli is doing when you can. I'll be thinking of you guys! <3

  15. It is horrible that this happened, and I think it's a little more common than people think. I had a similar thing happen when I had my wisdom teeth out; apparently I came to and started coughing, and lurched forward and impaled the back of my throat on the suction tool. I vaguely remember hearing the doctor yell at the nurse to "get her under again," but I didn't put it all together until I got home and told my mom I felt something weird at the back of my throat. She looked with a flashlight and saw stitches where I had been cut with the tool. When she called the doctor, THEN they told her what had happened. She was thoroughly peeved. I still had one more tooth to take out, and IIRC we went BACK to the same surgeon! I guess there weren't many other options where we lived. I am very grateful that none of our kids have had anything like this happen, but every time they go for wisdom tooth extraction I worry it might!

    My advice: First get copies of the forms you signed before the surgery, to see if there were waivers acknowledging the possibility of such an event. If you did sign something to that effect, there's nothing legally you can do. You can write a thorough letter of complaint to the office, and even better if they are part of a corporate dental office (like Bright Now) or something like that. You can point out that your son has been traumatized by this experience, and may well have to have therapy. You can inform them that you will not be using their office, or any of their affiliates (if they're part of a larger corporation) for yours or your family's dental needs. You can give them poor reviews on Google and any other medical review platforms.

    I would also do some research to see if other people have had similar issues (waking up and the office denying it) with this practice, and if so, then it may be worth it to get together and talk to a lawyer.

  16. American Society of Anesthesiologist says it's rare like 1-2 per 1000 but it happens and there's not much a surgeon can do if it wasn't something known beforehand. They note that it's important to provide this information for future surgeries. I'd focus on letting him talk through and process what happened to him. As he's becoming an adult, it's important for him to learn to process traumatic events in a healthy way, and then learn to advocate for himself in future situations by preparing ahead of time. Things happen during medical procedures that are sometimes unavoidable but cause fear and distress. It's important for him to learn not to avoid medial care in the future because of this bad experience. Lastly, you can certainly feel empathy and protective for your child, but there's no need to feel guilty or tell him that you feel guilty about it. He's almost an adult. He's capable of understanding that this was not your fault and that the procedure had to be done.

  17. Definitely not your fault and not something that you feel guilty for (easier said than done, I know). If it's at all feasible for you, therapy can be extremely helpful in processing traumatic memories - I speak from experience on this one. There are really good cognitive tools they can provide to help. So sorry this happened to Eli :(

  18. I am just seeing this today as I haven't been receiving the usual email notices of your posts. Others have said what I would have. You are NOT a horrible mom. You trusted the dentist who wasn't actually wrong. If he hadn't had his teeth extracted, he could have had terrible problems later. What IS horrible is that the dentist didn't immediately admit the possibility and explain the odds (very slim) of this happening. I'd never trust that dentist again and I'd write a YELP review about the dentist not immediately admitting it. It's possible their office has never seen this before. But I doubt that. It's probably not malpractice, but whoa. Big hugs to you and Eli.


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