Anaesthesia: The Gift of Oblivion and the Mystery of Consciousness

By Kate Cole-Adams Text Publishing

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.


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 the 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 Her novel, Walking to the Moon, was shortlisted in the Unpublished Manuscript section of the 2006 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and published by Text in 2009.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.

Judges' report


The result of years of painstaking research, Kate Cole-Adams’s Anaesthesia: The Gift of Oblivion and the Mystery of Consciousness is a work of memoir, philosophy, science, and cultural essay, a personal story that weaves anecdotes and statistics. Cole-Adams focuses on general anaesthetic, and in doing so shows how surprisingly little we know about what happens when we go under. She examines case studies, listens to myriad surgical stories and interviews experts in the field, in the hope of shedding light on the very nature of consciousness itself. Cole-Adams demonstrates fearless curiosity while dealing with our disquiet and anxiety about a subject that most of us pay little heed to, even though we are likely to come into contact with it at one point or another. Cole-Adams has a warm, wry and candid style. Anaesthesia is a stylish, distinctive and sophisticated work of nonfiction – a genuine attempt to unravel the mystery of what happens under anaesthetic.