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Becker, H.K. (1963). Carl Koller and Cocaine. Psychoanal Q., 32:309-373.

(1963). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 32:309-373

Carl Koller and Cocaine

Hortense Koller Becker

It was like a red-hot needle in yer eye whilst he was doing it. But he wasn't long about it. Oh no. If he had been long I couldn't ha' beared it. He wasn't a minute more than three quarters of an hour at the outside (11).

Thus, an old man described his cataract operation to Thomas Hardy and his wife on their visit to Dorsetshire in 1882.

It takes little imagination to picture the situation before the advent of local anesthesia, particularly in ophthalmology. Operations upon the eye were especially difficult, and for them general anesthesia was unsatisfactory. It was not administered as skilfully as it is today; retching and vomiting often followed which might seriously damage the eye, and the patient's conscious coöperation was frequently necessary. A long, delicate operation upon the sensitive eye demanded the greatest fortitude on his part, but the doctor too was under heavy strain, for he had to work with utmost speed on a tiny surface, with sight itself frequently at stake, torn perhaps by irritation or pity according to the patient's behavior which he had to control at the same time.

Local anesthesia in surgery is now so commonplace that it is hard to realize the suffering we have been spared since September 15, 1884, when a young Viennese doctor read a brief paper, barely two sides of a sheet, at a medical meeting in Heidelberg, and thus inaugurated the era of local anesthesia. The young man was Dr. Carl Koller, my father, whose long life ended on this side of the Atlantic in 1944. Later, after my mother's death, I found myself confronted with his papers which she had saved, the accumulation of some seventy-five years.

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