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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. At the Wheeler Centre, she’ll be 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’ll look into these questions, and more, at this riveting discussion on memory, pain and administered oblivion. Hosted by Amita Kirpalani.


Kate Cole-Adams

Kate Cole-Adams is a Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Her 2017 book Anaesthesia won the Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award and was shortlisted for the 2018 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award (Non-Fiction category) and Melbourne Prize Best Writing Award. Her 2008 novel, Walking to the M... Read more

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 cu... Read more

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... Read more


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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we live and work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present.