A 46-year-old man underwent cosmetic facial surgery under general anesthesia. He was ventilated by mask with an oxygen-enriched gas mixture for 4 to 6 h and monitored by pulse oximetry. Despite adequate arterial saturation (SaO2 > 90 percent) throughout the procedure, he remained in a deep coma after termination of anesthesia. Initial arterial blood gas analysis revealed a pH of 6.60 and a PaCO2 of 375 mm Hg. The patient was intubated and placed on mechanical ventilation. As his respiratory acidosis resolved, he regained consciousness quickly and recovered without any neurologic deficits. This case of record extreme hypercapnia and review of the literature demonstrates that survival is possible in acute severe respiratory acidosis as long as tissue anoxia and ischemia are prevented. We discuss the tissue effects of acute hypercapnia and newer aspects of the nature of intracellular pH regulation in critical tissues that afford considerable tolerance to acidosis. The dependence of these mechanisms upon active ion transport underscores the importance of adequate tissue oxygenation and perfusion.