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The Gift of Oblivion and the Mystery of Consciousness

List Price: $26.00

ON SALE: December 5, 2017 | Hardcover | 6x9, 400 pages | ISBN 9781619029507
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An astounding work of nonfiction illuminating a crucial element of modern medicine that works for reasons barely understood—even by expert practitioners. Anesthesia leavens science with personal experience, and brings an intensely human curiosity to the unknowable realm beyond consciousness.

Anesthetize: to render insensible. First there’s the injection, then counting backwards from ten—and suddenly, you’re awake. Anesthesia: The Gift of Oblivion and the Mystery of Consciousness is the story of the time in-between, an exploration of that baffling gift of modern medicine: the disappearing act that enables us to undergo procedures which would otherwise be impossibly, often fatally, painful. It is among the most crucial and baffling gifts of modern medicine.

In the past 150 years, anesthesia has made surgical intervention routine, from open-heart surgery to the facelift. But how much do anesthesiologists really know about what happens when their patients go under? Can we hear and retain what’s going on? Is pain still pain if we don’t remember it? How does the unconscious mind deal with the body’s experience of being sliced open and ransacked—and how can we help ourselves through it all?

Kate Cole-Adams—a Melbourne-based novelist and journalist—spent more than a decade researching and writing Anesthesia. She interweaves her exploration with personal accounts—of patients who wake up under the knife, of traumatic reactions, hallucinations, and submerged memories—that evoke the complexities of dreaming and the provisional nature of the self.

Haunting, lyrical, sometimes shattering, Anesthesia leavens science with personal experience, and brings an intensely human curiosity to the unknowable realm beyond consciousness.

KATE COLE-ADAMS is a journalist and novelist. Her debut novel, Walking to the Moon, was published in 2008. She lives in Melbourne with her family.


“Cole-Adams . . . mingles her own experiences under anesthesia with those of other patients and doctors, producing a personal work that is a mix of agony and insight.” —Publishers Weekly

“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, author of Everywhere I Look

“With Anesthesia, Kate Cole-Adams has given us a gift. She explores not only the concepts but the characters who hope to understand the shadowy world of the anesthetized mind. However, Cole-Adams transforms from being an observer to a fellow journeyer, providing authentic insight and transmitting the excitement of those who believe that these drugs are ethereal keys that could unlock the vault of consciousness itself.” —George Mashour, author of Neuroscientific Foundations of Anesthesiology

“Kate Cole-Adams has written an insightful and moving exploration of general anesthesia: a must-read for anesthetists and their patients.” —Professor Kate Leslie, head of research in the Department of Anaesthesia and Pain Management, Royal Melbourne Hospital; former head of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists

“This book is a compelling exploration from a patient perspective of the still poorly understood phenomenon of ‘anesthesia’, and of the uncertain border between being unconscious and awake. Much of this material will be new not only to patients but also to many practitioners.” —Professor Jaideep Pandit MA, BM, DPhil, FRCA, FFPMRCA, DM, Consultant Anaesthetist, Nuffield Department of Anaesthetics, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust & Fellow St John’s College

“I think [Anesthesia] is utterly brilliant. I will read anything this woman writes forever more. She is Just. So. Good. Human, funny, insightful, supersmart, a most original and perceptive writer. I ended the book in tears. It is not just about medical stuff, but deeply personal stuff. About the psyche, and pain of all kinds, and triumphing, surviving, exploring, being brave and powerful and honest. About what is said and what isn’t, about listening, about dreams and hypnosis and consciousness, which is to say, about our deepest selves. You might be getting the picture: I adored it to bits.” —Charlotte Wood, author of The Natural Way of Things

“Cole-Adams blends research, reflection, and memoir to try to grapple with the meaning of consciousness . . . These are thought-provoking questions, and Cole-Adams presents a lyrical journey through the vital question of what it means to be human.” —Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Walking to the Moon

“A beautiful novel about the things that matter—love, loss and courage.” —Carrie Tiffany, author of Mateship with Birds

“It’s not until after a full first reading that the solid form of the novel coalesces and the subtle beauty of each passage, each deftly crafted image, becomes apparent…Cole-Adams’s elegant prose is a kind of alchemy, turning the ephemera of loss, abandonment and a coma into finely spun gold.” —Good Reading

“Cole-Adams writes evocatively, melding places…into an exploration of Jess’s inner world… Walking to the Moon is a deeply thoughtful and at times engrossing book. And the timbre of the prose is quite gorgeous—simultaneously tough and tender.” —Adelaide Advertiser

“This temporal, contemplative examination of loss and healing…rewards slow and careful reading… Cole-Adams captures beautifully [the] twilight world that exists somewhere between sleep and wakefulness with language that is so languid, at times it seems lifted from a dream… the pieces start to fall quietly into place to celebrate the resilience and recuperation of a woman reclaiming control of her life. The result is deeply rewarding and there are moments of sheer beauty along the way.” —Australian

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