Awake or knocked out? The line gets blurrier

April 12, 2012
DR. Michael Alkire

IN THE NEWS: The New York Times examined whether medicine is any closer to understanding the boundary between being awake and alert and being unconscious:

Scientists and doctors certainly know how to knock people out.

Dr. Michael T. Alkire at the University of California, Irvine, put it this way in an article in Science… “How consciousness arises in the brain remains unknown,” he wrote. “Yet, for nearly two centuries our ignorance has not hampered the use of general anesthesia for routinely extinguishing consciousness during surgery.”

…In studies using anesthesia, the paralytic effects of drugs used during surgery were blocked from one forearm, and then attempts were made to communicate with the patient. Dr. Alkire wrote, “Patients under general anesthesia can sometimes carry on a conversation using hand signals, but postoperatively, they deny ever being awake. Thus, retrospective oblivion is no proof of unconsciousness.”

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