I spent 20 minutes under general anesthesia this morning, and had an odd memory afterwards.
It was nothing serious – my first screening colonoscopy, things looked OK, come back in five years – but I hadn’t been under general anesthesia in 40 years (since having molars removed as a teen) and I was self-monitoring carefully.
When I came out of it, I brought with me two memories. One was that I had been aware of people talking around me. The anesthesiologist had told me that might happen, and I wouldn’t have been surprised by it anyway; I’ve read of that effect.
This tells you human beings are really social animals – so much so that we’re partially alert to people-talk even when we’re knocked out. After all (gasp!) our status might change…
The odd thing I surfaced with was memory of some mental processing I’d been doing while unconscious. It appears my brain was running in a sort of survival-alert loop, constantly evaluating whether it could hear or feel or smell danger cues sufficient to wake me up. What I remembered was the operating noise of that loop running.
Of course it makes complete evolutionary sense that we’d have a mechanism like that. And we behave like we do, too; unfamiliar noises wake us up from sleep, familiar ones don’t. There’s got to be some neural processing going on evaluating familiarity.
What is odd is that I’ve never heard or read of anyone else remembering that operating noise. I know of no term of art for it in science, nor any match to it in the literature of mystical introspection. It’s not the free-associative (“drunken monkey”) chatter beneath normal consciousness, but something much leaner and more task-focused: “Wake the boss? Wake the boss? Wake the boss?…”
I suppose it’s just barely possible I’m the first to both keep the memory and write about it – not many people have been experimental mystics for forty years and have my ability to self-monitor, and maybe there’s something about particular kinds of anesthesia that makes it easier not to lose continuity of consciousness than waking from normal sleep.
Still, this seems unlikely. One would think there’d been enough mystics in auto accidents by now to collect reports on post-operative recovery that would include memories like this.
Can any of my readers point at something relevant?