Going Under: The Mystery of Anaesthesia

Going Under: The Mystery of Anaesthesia

The first uses of modern medical anaesthetic, back in the 1840s, represented a huge advancement in medicine. But as the technology has advanced, we've become increasingly blase about the whole notion of going under. There's even something a bit cavalier about the language we use – 'general'; 'local' – to describe different categories of anaesthetic.

In her new book on the subject, journalist Kate Cole-Adams looks at the facts, and explores the enigma of this mysterious medical practice. In Anaesthesia: The Gift of Oblivion and the Mystery of Consciousness, she interweaves scientific and historical research with personal experience to present a haunting meditation on memory, paralysis and consciousness. She's joined by leading anaesthetist and pain-management researcher Kate Leslie.

How common is it for patients to ‘wake up’ during surgery? Is pain still pain if you can’t feel it? And what do we know about consciousness, anyway? We look into these questions, and more, in this riveting discussion on memory, pain and administered oblivion. Hosted by Amita Kirpalani.


Portrait of Kate Cole-Adams

Kate Cole-Adams

Kate Cole-Adams is a writer and journalist. She lives with her family in Melbourne, and until recently worked part-time training reporters at the Age newspaper.

She has previously worked for publications including Sydney Morning Herald and Time Australia magazine, where she was a senior writer. Her novel, Walking to the Moon, was shortlisted in the Unpublished Manuscript section of the 2006 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and published by Text in 2009. Anaesthesia is her second book. She writes very slowly.

Portrait of Kate Leslie

Kate Leslie

Professor Kate Leslie AO FAHMS is a specialist anaesthetist and head of anaesthesia research at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and a professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne and Monash University. She is a former president of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists, and a current director of the Australian Medical Council.

Kate's research interests include awareness and dreaming during general anaesthesia and sedation, and monitoring the depth of anaesthesia.

Portrait of Amita Kirpalani

Amita Kirpalani

Amita Kirpalani is a writer and curator. She writes regularly about contemporary art, and her work has appeared in publications such as Art Monthly and Art + Australia. She was previously editor of the arts review website, and is currently producing a podcast of longform interviews with contemporary artists.

Amita has held curatorial positions at CCAS, Gertrude Contemporary and ACMI. She was Projects Producer for the Wheeler Centre.

Listen to Going Under: The Mystery of Anaesthesia