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Anesthesia

Crying/weeping after general anesthesia

11/21/2006

Question:

I am a happy, well-adjusted, optimistic, and positive person. But when I have surgery w/ a general anesthetic, I always wake up in the PACU in tears. Last week I had a successful lumbar laminectomy for excision of a benign tumor (I had constant unrelenting siatica pain for 6 weeks prior) so I was so relieved...yet I was weeping! All thu the night, as nurses checked on me, I continued to cry periodically. I had plenty of pain relief options, which I used, but the tears continued to flow. Even today, 4 days later, I cried a few times. Is this "normal"?! I must add that I`m a very physically sensitive, very empathetic, person. Could my unconscious mind/physical body be remembering events (while I was anesthetized) from the whole surgical experience and my only way to deal with that "unknown" feedback is to weep? Or....?! Thanks for any insight!

Answer:

To be honest, as an anesthesiologist I spend the vast majority of my professional time in the operating room or its environs. I seldom see my patients 4 days after their surgery so I cannot say whether your experience is "normal", nor does the scientific literature in my field have much comment on this!

If you want my entirely unscientific opinion, I would say that tearfulness after a major operation, which was accompanied quite possibly by fear of cancer and fear of dying, is probably a healthy psychological response. You reflect on your joy at being given a good diagnosis, and the prospect for a continued happy life, as well as relief of your sciatica pain. I have noticed that many patients who are anxious or upset preoperatively tend to be tearful or upset when they wake up. I do not know of any pharmacologic effects of anesthetic drugs that would increase tearing or crying, although some drugs tend to have a disinhibiting effect, perhaps making it easier on an emotional level to "let go."

If you are concerned that you were at some other level awake or aware of your surgery during the actual procedure we can of course speculate but have no way of knowing until such time as we fully understand consciousness and how it arises in the brain. In the meantime I would accept the tears and reflect on your good fortune to have received good medical care and a new lease on life.

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Response by:

Gareth S Kantor, MD Gareth S Kantor, MD
Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University