Winner, 2017 Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award
You know how it is when you go under. The jab, the countdown, the—
—and then you wake.
This book is about what happens in between.
Until a hundred and seventy years ago many people chose death over the ordeal of surgery. Now hundreds of thousands undergo operations every day. Anaesthesia has made it possible.
But how much do we really know about what happens to us on the operating table? Can we hear what’s going on around us? Is pain still pain if we are not awake to feel it, or don’t remember it afterwards? How does the unconscious mind deal with the body’s experience of being cut open and ransacked? And how can we help ourselves through it?
Haunting, lyrical, sometimes shattering, Anaesthesia leavens science with personal experience to bring an intensely human curiosity to the unknowable realm beyond consciousness.
What really happens to us when we are anaesthetised? By this I mean not what happens to the pinging, crackling apparatus of our nerves and spinal cords and brains, but what happens to us—to the person who is me or the person who is you—as doctors go about the messy business of slicing and delving within us?
Kate Cole-Adams is a Melbourne journalist. Her novels Walking to the Moon and Anaesthesia: The Gift of Oblivion and the Mystery of Consciousness are published by Text.
‘Anaesthesia is mesmerising…This rich and thorough study looks more deeply into questions about the nature of consciousness than many of us who undergo an anaesthetic are likely, or willing, to ponder.’ Australian Book Review
‘A work of splendid richness and depth, driven by a curiosity so intense that it hazards at times the extreme boundaries of the sayable.’ Helen Garner
‘Kate Cole-Adams has been fascinated with our funny non-being during surgery for a long time, and Anaesthesia feels like a book that’s taken over a decade to write, which it is. It also feels like you’re having a decade’s worth of conversations with a dogged, but generous and resourceful thinker, with someone (she is both a journalist and a novelist) who can crack open a complex idea, and then run with it.’ Readings
‘Comfortably numb. A close-up look at anaesthesia is equal parts social history, popular science and report on experience.’ NZ Listener
‘Anaesthesia is not just an account of medical research but a poetic exploration of the mysteries of the human mind.’ Australian
‘Cole-Adams’s prose is sinuous, at times intoxicating, and witty.’ Sydney Morning Herald
‘A troubling, anxious subject that most of us would rather avoid or deflect with dark humour. Cole-Adams has illuminated it in a memorable way. The book is a gift not of oblivion but of awareness.’ Inside Story
‘For the interested reader, it’s an outline of the science, with an emphasis on the unknown. For the practitioner, it’s a patient experience, eloquently expressed. There’s much more the anaesthesia than meets the eye, and this book provides a glimpse into the depths.’ Conversation
‘A fascinating mix of historical background, moving—sometimes shocking—surgical stories, interviews with experts and case studies. Surprisingly, it seems relatively little is really known about exactly how effective and affective anaesthetic is. Despite that, I found this book an oddly reassuring study.’ North and South NZ
‘Kate Cole-Adams has written a book that defies familiar categories. It is a personal memoir, a history, a scientific study, and a philosophical enquiry into the unconscious, and by drawing all these strands together the author has delivered a masterpiece.’ Jamie Grant, head judge, Waverley Council Nib Literary Awards