Every year an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 of the 21 million patients who receive general anesthesia wake up during surgery because they are under-anesthetized, usually by mistake or because doctors fear too high a dose of anesthesia could be dangerous. Half of them, like Williams, can hear or feel what is going on but are unable to communicate what is happening to them because they have been temporarily paralyzed. Nearly 30 percent feel pain, studies have shown.
The White House is said to be seriously concerned about this phenomenon. President; Bush's drive to curb medical malpractice lawsuits depends critically on generating the perception that the vast majority of such suits are frivolous attempts to milk the system for free cash. If examples of real experiences where patients experienced excruciating pain were to be well publicized, the public might be reminded that doctor really do make mistakes and that many lawsuits are entirely justified.
At least that's the conventional thinking. But some DC insiders have another theory. "I hear Karl Rove is in a real sweat over this one," said Strep Throat, a source deep inside the White House machinery. "His whole modus operandi is to keep the American population desensitized while bloody and traumatic things are done to the body politic. The last thing he wants is for America to wake up in mid-experiment and realize that Social Security has been ripped away."
Because the most often cited cause of patients awakening during surgery is insufficient anesthesia, Rove is said to be taking extra precautions. "I hear that the tax code overhaul is going to be announced the Friday before Super Bowl Sunday," said one source. "With that much beer and nachos flowing through the national bloodstream, you could chop our toes off with a blunt machete and we wouldn't; notice - a little thing like rigging the national taxation system to favor the rich won't even tingle."
Another fear of Rove's is that the nation will suddenly awaken during the process of confirming new conservative nominees to the Supreme Court. "it would be awful," said one political observer. "Imagine feeling helpless like that, unable to speak, move, or influence a solidly Republican Congress, while you can feel them stacking the bench. It would be awful." To avoid such a disaster, the White House is said to be ready to raise the terrorism threat level to "Mood Indigo" and to announce a Constitutional Amendment to ban homosexuals from "acting funny."
One fo the most memorable effects of awakening during surgery is said to be the intense sensory inputs from, e.g., the smell of medicinal alcohol, or the sounds of surgical procedures and tool such as bone saws. While doctors have eschewed measures such as putting headphones on patients, politicians have not. "Rove is on top of it," assured one Republican sawbones. "He's going to dim the lights and raise the noise level so far that even if America does come out from under the war, they won't be able to tell the rape of the environment from the latest foreign-policy fiasco. There'll be so much background noise you'll think … well, you won't think anything at all. Look! A naked breast on TV! Call the FCC!"
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