Beyond terrified of having a general anaesthetic

I’ve read all the other scaredy cat posts and they haven’t made the slightest bit of difference. I had my plastic surgery consult a few weeks ago and have my appointment with the surgeon on Tuesday. I am so close to telling them I just can’t do it. I’m literally crying all day every day, teetering on the edge of a panic attack, not sleeping, not eating. I spoke with my GP this morning who said I could get Diazepam the day before and day of surgery but I’m not going to get that far. Has anybody tried hypnotherapy or any other kind off woo woo stuff that might be able to help? A lot of the tips I’ve seen online seem to be geared towards a ‘normal’ level of anxiety or nervousness - I’m so far beyond that, its debilitating.


First of all, I’m so sorry you’ve got to this point. Your GP sounded about as helpful as mine (they believe the nonsense that it’s impossible to maintain a panic level of anxiety for more than 20 minutes. Huh!). You honestly aren’t the only one with this level of debilitating anxiety - about surgery, about GA, about anything really when you consider you’re in the world of breast cancer. I was in a similar state about having a mastectomy - because I have a lifelong phobia for vomiting and was convinced this would happen when I came round. So some of the time leading up to surgery was one perpetual panic attack. There’s nothing ‘scaredy-cat’ about this level of fear so do stop mocking yourself for it - be kind to yourself (ugh, horrible advice but so very important).

You are seeing your consultant soon. You tell them and make sure they understand that this is not the usual level of anxiety, it’s beyond that and you need help. If they are good, they will help you. But you are going to have to trust them, which isn’t easy when you are in a panic state.

There’s no point telling you it will be ok and you don’t say what, if you know, is your fear of a GA. Let’s assume it’s an unidentifiable atavistic fear. I’ve found things like hypnotherapy take time to work. Yes, I’ve had it and courses of it several times in my life. I’ve tried EMDR. I’ve tried NLP and every bloody alternative/complementary therapy going (please avoid ‘woo-woo’ - it’s not fair on things that many people find as helpful as medical interventions!). They all take time and practice - and you don’t have time. But I started plugging in to Progressive Hypnosis’s free videos on YouTube. They gave me some respite from the fear, I learnt diaphragmatic breathing and I’ve done one of them almost daily for the last 4 years. Give it a try. Start with the Cure Anxiety. It won’t cure it obviously but it can make a real difference.

You’d be better off with a short course of diazepam now, but if your terror is as heightened as you believe, it probably won’t work. Hospitals seem to prefer prescribing lorazepam as one-offs and I have to say they are miraculous - no wooziness, just a sense that everything’s ok (I’m given them for scans where you have to keep still lol). But the staff will help you understand the process and maybe work out what your actual fear is. Mine’s easy - they just increase the anti-emetic that’s part of general anaesthesia so there’s no chance of being sick. Of course, I’m completely dehydrated as a result but it’s a small price to pay. They have so much experience dealing with people’s fears so be open, be persistent if necessary but ry hard to trust them. Not easy, I know.

Now go plug in to YouTube!

Wishing you all the best

Jan (55 years of almost nonstop anxiety which, oddly, has almost stopped now I’m in cancer-world. Maybe it’s the videos) xx

I feel for you, because I was also terrified. Feeling beyond terrified is very normal. It’s the anxiety talking. Ask yourself if you trust your medical team. If so, know that they do this every day, all day.

Other than this, are there any other reasons why you are terrified?

I am so sorry you are feeling this way. I had my surgery 2 weeks ago and I felt exactly the same. I had a lot of support around me which helped as I shared this fear. I did keep really busy up to surgery day and left as little time as possible for my mind to get the better of me. On the day of surgery when the anaesthetist came to talk to me it was the only time I got tearful. He asked me what was worrying me most and I was totally honest with him. He told me exactly how he was going to look after me and offered huge reassurance. He said he’d give me something to relax me first. I walked into the operating theatre and I can honestly say it was far less scary than my mind had visualised. Lots of talking to me. The relaxant worked and I woke up in recovery. Although I’d be anxious before any surgery  in the future I now don’t have that awful terror I had building up to that. Talk to your support network and your surgeon/care nurses/anaesthetist/GP. Talking does help. Don’t hold those fears in. That’s the only advice I can give and I wish you well with your surgery and journey.

The best thing about your anxiety is that once you look it in the face you can deal with it. I was petrified when I had anaesthetic in 2003 because I didn’t trust the surgeons one little bit. The anaesthetists even less. The anaesthetist I had in 2003 claimed I was the kind of woman who needed a dose of pre-med, diamorphine, delivered by injection into my bottom.

Oh no I wasn’t that kind of woman, and how could he know after meeting me a minute earlier what kind of woman I was? So this time I insisted on having a straight talk with my anaesthetist for a good long time. Poor man - but at least I felt he knew what a wimp I was.

This time in 2022 I made sure I knew how the process would be. I would walk to the place I would get treatment, I would only sign the consent forms when I was feeling ready to do so.

As I lay down to have the anaesthetic,  he asked me what I’d be doing that morning if I wasn’t being operated on. So I had a nice chat about taking our dog for a walk in the country and before I knew where I was I was waking up in a euphoric state with no pain, and all the surgery over.

By the way I had about six or seven hours of surgery - a mastectomy followed by a reconstruction from fat in my tum. I did feel so happy I said so to all the patients in recovery I was going past on my trolley towards my next port of call, a room where I was getting intensive care. I was lucky I had a bell I could call any time I felt pain or sickness and someone came immediately. 

So that’s what I’d recommend. You can’t be given an anaesthetic unless you consent to it. Don’t consent to it until you know enough about how you are going to be looked after to make a decision.

Your operation may not be as long as mine. I hope not, but I am 67 and a complete freak about putting myself in another person’s care so I do feel there is a glimmer of similarity between us. I am also very afraid of pain and weakness and trusting anyone else with my very precious body.

The anaesthetic I had this time was a lot better than those I’ve had before, and although I was sick at one point when I was in intensive care, I had an excellent sick bag with a twist top which meant I could throw up without it going anywhere else or there being a horrible smell in the room.