No one likes to consider this as a possibility. In the good “old” days of early surgery and anesthesia, this was a real possibility. The chance of experiencing death was a 1 in 10,000 among healthy patients whereas in a sicker population was much higher. The major reason for thi were the multiple unknowns of anesthesia and surgery. The medications often used for anesthesia were poorly understood and they had terrible side effects that could affect the kidneys, the liver or even cause fatal cardiac arrhythmias. In addition, some of the early anesthetics were flammable or even explosive resulting in ghastly outcomes in the operating room. The medications used were also found to cause significant changes in human physiology that if left untreated could result in disastrous consequences.
Over time new drugs were introduced that had a safer profile and new monitoring techniques were developed. In addition, a whole new field of anesthesia training was created to supply professionals who were dedicated to the management of anesthesia. This combination of factors has made anesthesia quite safe and the mortality rates have fallen to about 5 deaths/million anesthetics. It might actually be safer to have an anesthetic than cross a busy highway.