...In the two weeks before he committed suicide, Sherman Sizemore thought people were trying to bury him alive.
Family members say the 73-year-old Baptist minister was driven to kill himself by the traumatic experience of being awake during surgery but unable to move or cry out in pain.
Sizemore's death has drawn attention to a little-discussed phenomenon called anesthesia awareness that some experts say may happen to 20,000 to 40,000 patients a year in this country. Typically they feel pain, pressure or other discomfort during surgery because they are not adequately anesthetized.
The causes can include doctor errors, faulty equipment or medical conditions so severe that the patient cannot be safely put under deep anesthesia.
...In 2005, the American Society of Anesthesiologists adopted guidelines calling for doctors to follow a checklist to make sure anesthesia is delivered properly. The ASA stopped short of endorsing brain-monitoring machines as standard equipment, saying doctors should decide on a case-by-case basis whether such devices are necessary.
"It could be that someday everybody who gets anesthesia will have a brain-wave monitor," said Dr. Robert Johnstone, a professor of anesthesiology at the West Virginia University School of Medicine. ...