The doctor who made notes on cocaine as he was dying from an overdose

Illustration for article titled The doctor who made notes on cocaine as he was dying from an overdose

There has been a lot of eerie experimentation over the years, but few experimental journals touch Edwin Katskee's diary. Katskee decided that he would go ahead and test the effects of cocaine. He took far too much, and then documented his own overdose.


For years the medical profession handled "pain management" by providing straps to hold a conscious surgical patient down. Then it handled pain management by, for the most part, stopping the flow of gas to an unconscious surgical patient just before it killed them. Cocaine changed that. It became the first widely-used local anesthetic, and so could numb people without knocking them senseless. It wasn't too long, however, before doctors noticed that cocaine too had dangerous side effects.

Exactly what the side effects were, and what they were at different levels of dosage, was still a fuzzy area to doctors in 1936. Edwin Katskee decided to change that, and ended up as one of the more ghoulish cautionary tales in experimental medicine. Katskee was a proctologist,who worked with local anesthetic. He gave himself a large injection of cocaine, intending to document the symptoms of the drug. The injection turned out to be a fatal overdose. During the course of that overdose, Katskee wrote his symptoms and thoughts on the walls of his office. He was found dead, surrounded by his notes, the next morning.

The writing on the wall was in no particular order, although some people were able to put the scribbles in sequence from neatest to sloppiest handwriting. The first note seems to be, "Eyes mildly dilated. Vision excellent." Things got worse from there, then briefly better, when Katskee wrote, "Now able to stand up," and "Partial recovery. Smoked cigarette." Later there are warnings to other doctors, and to himself. In one spot on the walls he wrote, "Results will be recorded in Rx books! Have a university and college [illegible] any findings. They better be good because I am not going to repeat the experiment." The last word he wrote was "paralysis." He probably died soon afterwards.

Katskee's notes, as scattered as they were and without proper timekeeping, did not prove useful. His example might be more so.

[Via Mad Science Museum, The Milwaukee Journal]


k2b: da man stole mah bloggy!!!!!!!

The text isn't illegible. It says, "Have a university or any med college pharmacologist give you an opinion on my findings."

I'm not on cocaine - I've just done a lot of typing for people with handwriting that looks like they are on something themselves.