Surgery beyond your wildest dreams

I’ve just read a fascinating 2009 study on dreaming during anaesthesia that looks at how different drugs can alter our unconscious reveries during surgery.

One section was on ‘near-miss awareness’ where dreams incorporate the outside reality of the hospital because the patient is on the threshold of consciousness.

This is the wonderful list of these dreams from the study where the patients report strangley surgical fantasies.

“She dreamt that she wanted to argue but could not because there was something in her mouth stopping her talking.”

“A patient dreamed that he was at a fairground and someone was throwing darts at his stomach. The patient was undergoing a gastro-enterostomy and vagotomy.”

“A patient undergoing a uterovaginal prolapse repair dreamed of a dragging feeling around her perineum and of having a baby”.

“A patient had an unpleasant dream in which he was accused of being under the influence of narcotic drugs.”

“A patient dreamed of a party in a public house in which there was a generous supply of gin and the anaesthetist was the landlord.”

“(A patient) dreamt about a fish in a tank and seaweed surrounding her. Splashing around and the colour blue.” (The theatre staff were talking about fishing).

“One patient dreamt about aliens and thought aliens had taken over the operation” (Theatre staff had had a conversation about aliens during surgery).

“I dreamt that I heard your (the researcher’s) voice which made me feel very relaxed but I don’t remember what you said.” This patient was played an audiotape of a story during anaesthesia.


Link to DOI entry and summary for locked study.
Link to PubMed entry for same.


  1. Posted November 18, 2010 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    I’ve experienced this before, but it wasn’t because of anesthesia and I wasn’t in a hospital.

    I was in a hotel room and my dad was snoring really loudly. I had this dream where I was in this cartoon world and I met up with my dad and he was sleeping, while snoring. Yeah, it wasn’t that imaginative, but it freaked me out when I realized my dream had incorporated some of “outside reality.”

  2. bbleeker
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    One time I dreamed I was at the dentist, and when I awoke, I really *was* at the dentist. (The treatment hurt, and I’d fainted ;-)

  3. bbleeker
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    Another time I dreamed I turned off the alarm clock, and then I woke up and realized it had been the doorbell.

  4. M.
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 4:34 am | Permalink

    When I was very small, I had my tonsils removed. I remember very little from that time, but I still vividly remember the dream I had under anesthesia: a bunch of people dressed in green were shoving a toilet brush down my throat. Definitely a connection…

  5. jjonnyy
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    My dad has a ringtone that is the beginning of old time rock and roll. One morning his phone went off. I actually had a dream i was in that scene from risky business. I’m not joking

  6. Posted November 19, 2010 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    The last time I was in hospital, I had anaesthesia for the first time (having broken my hand, they needed to repair it).

    It was strange, because it was 11th November 2009, and the last thing we did before the surgery was to hold a minutes silence (it was 11am and we were in Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham, where many British Troops are being treated).

    Anyway, I remembered nothing of the surgery, but the post operative amnesia was very interesting. I remember talking to the nurses who were with me when I awoke. The conversation when something like this:

    “I’m a psychologist you know… doing my PhD in neuropsychology.”
    “Yes you’ve told us that.”
    “Really? I don’t remember that!”
    “Yes you said it earlier.”
    “How long have I been talking to you for?!?”
    “About an hour.”
    “But it only seems like 10 minutes? It must be a post anaesthetic anterograde amnesia of some kind.”
    “Yes, you said that earlier too.”

    It was interesting to see how my long term memory retrieval was intact, as well as my working memory (to hold the conversation) but that my encoding of new memories was totally impaired post anaesthesia. Its an insight into how the memories of some of the brain injured people I work with must be affected.

  7. cavall de quer
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Well, that about wraps it up for Freud, then.

  8. DRK
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    After going into respiratory arrest and being unconscious, I had a very vivid dream that I was in the back of an ambulance being transported to a hospital. The dream was so realistic; the noises of the siren, the smell of disinfectant, a slight draft around my feet — I was really pleased at the depth of detail. Then I woke up all the way and realized I really was in the back of an ambulance, there really were sirens, my ankles were cold.

    I was kind of disappointed….

  9. RC
    Posted January 4, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    All I can say is you folks don’t know how to do it. after reading the abstract describing short, pleasant dreams and the other “facts” I thought “wow”. I recently had double heart bypass, with complications. They had to re-open the chest, then they had difficulty removing the ventilator, requiring extra time under anasthetic and on the ventilator. Folks, the variety, the inventiveness, the the fear, the spiritualism in the dreams I had was INCREDIBLE. I dreamed very involved dreams convinced I was in other locations around the world, that I was in the world beyond this one, that I was living out multiple futures, that I was being dealt with by a sorceress…INCREDIBLE, some very disturbing, some very philosophical, some that I conveyed in conversations to visitors and friends and family over the phone. So involved and fantastic were the dreams I am working on a book it was an INCREDIBLE experience, and not the pleasant ride described (although some of the scenes, events and stories were deeply meaningful and beautiful

  10. Juliette
    Posted October 18, 2014 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    I dreamt that I was having cans of cider with the surgeon who was performing my op..I wonder if the the theater staff were talking about having a drink after the show,haha?? It was quite surreal!

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