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Observations placeholder

Erickson, Milton - On ether



Type of Spiritual Experience


This classifies as an out of body because he could ‘hear’ while unconscious

A description of the experience

The seminars, workshops and lectures of Milton H Erickson – edited by Ernest Rossi and Margaret O Ryan

When I became an intern I was interested in what an anesthetized patient really knows about what is going on during the operation. Do sound waves travel along a specific nerve to a specific center of the brain, if there is such a mechanism for the perception of sound? I soon found out one thing: by inducing trances in patients post-operatively, some of them were able to provide lots of information about what went on during their operations.

The details of what they selected to recall were remarkable.

There was one surgeon who had a nasty operating-room manner.  In the ward he was a charming gentleman, but in the operating room - well, I wanted to slaughter him many a time! (I often gave the anaesthesia for him. We used ether, and the patients were under a deep anesthesia.)

While he was operating on a patient, this particular surgeon would use the most uncomplimentary terms: he would describe the abdomen as a mountain of fat, for instance, or make insulting remarks about the body of a young girl - things of that sort. The remarkable thing was that patients who had this experience with the undesirable surgeon would tell me a good deal about what had happened in the operating room when they were later in the trance state. And they would remember those uncomplimentary remarks. But the patients who had had a surgeon who was reassuring throughout the operation did not recall his nice remarks.

That gave me the feeling that a great deal is perceived and remembered, even in a deeply anaesthetized state.

Since my internship days, I've run across similar instances time after time. I kept careful records of those cases I studied while an intern. I was very careful about watching the patient post-operatively so that nothing was said about the operating room events. And I knew what the surgeon had said in the operating room (because I had been there), so I could match it against the actual words that the patient in the deep trance would tell me had been said in the operating room.

There's one other comment that I want to make on this issue of anaesthesiology. At some point during my work on the research service at Worcester State Hospital in the 1930's, I had to have an abscessed tooth opened, drained, and extracted. Dr. F who was in charge of medical services and a good friend of mine, offered to act as the anaesthesiologist. Arrangements were made with the dentist, Dr. B, who was also a good friend of mine. And, of course, since I was going to go under an anaesthetic, we all agreed to find out what I would remember.

Dr. B promised to keep a very, very careful record throughout the entire procedure.  Dr. B went about keeping his record and feeding me the ether-drop method of anaesthesia, when finally he remarked: "He must be a secret faker. I've fed him two cans of ether already, but now I'm sure he's completely out." My remark was, "The hell you say!" [Much laughter]

Then Dr. B said, "Well, I'll give you another can." The next record he made on the chart was of his statement: "That's three cans of ether - more than any human being can take at this altitude. Now he's out!" [Laughter]

After I'd come out of the recovery room, Dr. B asked me, "Well, what do you remember about your operation?"

"I kidded you, and I kidded the dentist," I replied.

"What exactly did you say?" Dr. B asked. And as he looked at his chart, I was able to tell him what he had written down while I was "completely out."

I think all of you ought to bear that in mind, You ought to recognize that the functioning of the human brain, the human mind, is something about which we know very, very little. We ought to have a tremendous interest in every experimental study and experimental inquiry being conducted.

The source of the experience

Erickson, Milton

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Diethyl ether

Activities and commonsteps