Of all the researchers that I have written about this month in my series DOCTORS & SCIENTISTS WHO SELF EXPERIMENTED, this one is probably the one which is saddest of them all. I almost decided to skip it but then pressed the PUBLISH button anyway. If you are happy and do not want to spoil the rest of your day I advice you not to read the article.
Dr Edwin Katskee was born and raised in Nebraska. He went on to graduate from the University of Nebraska medical school in 1924. He interned at King’s County hospital in Brooklyn. It was here that he faced a lot of harassment due to his Jewish background. But he managed to earn a degree in proctology. He was married to Bernice Diamond and they had two children.
The year 1936 was a terrible one for Katskee. First he suffered a number of health problems for which he had to even undergo a gall bladder surgery. That same year, one of his close relatives committed suicide which had a great impact on Katskee’s life. And if that weren’t enough, his wife Bernice filed for divorce and custody of both their children that same year citing “extreme cruelty” on Katskee’s part.
The evening of 25thNovember 1936, is one shrouded in mystery. Dr Katskee came down to the lobby of his office building and called for the bell boy whose name was Jerry Thomas(some references say John Thomas). According to the bell boy Dr Katskee looked nervous and excited. He had come out with a BP cuff around his arm. He asked Jerry to get him a large dose of cocaine which could be obtained legally at the time with a doctor’s prescription and since he was one there was no problem getting them.
Once he got the cocaine, he sent the bell boy away and injected himself with a large dose and started recording the effects the drug had on him. At the time, he was a young man in his early 30’s with his elegant features and dark wavy hair. According to the Electrified Sheep,he picked up the phone and called the bell boy and said “Hello, Jerry. Its Dr Katskee. I wanted to say thank you for coming up and assisting me with my project earlier. Well, I also wanted to let you know that I’ll be staying in my office a while longer. I’m doing some research now. Oh, and I may write some notes on the wall. Please don’t let anyone remove them after I leave. They are quite important.” The bell boy assured him that he would do as he had been instructed.
“Anyway, that’s all I wanted to say….Well, I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving tomorrow too, Jerry. Give my regards to your wife and family ….No , I probably won’t be doing anything. I’m quite busy with my work…Yes, that all. Thank you again Jerry”he said before hanging up.
He then went to the wall and wrote in a bold handwriting –
“10 p.m. I do this for a better understanding of the bad reactions we see in rectal patients when cocaine is applied topically or injected, when Novocaine is ineffective. This is my way of contributing to medical and scientific archives of clinical research”
He knew that it could be fatal but didn’t take any antidote for it. Instead he calmly went on writing his observations on the office wall. After a while he wrote –
“Vision clear- slight ringing in ears- heartbeat increasing- urge to talk”
As the drug started taking its toll on him, his handwriting became increasingly difficult to read.
“Ringing getting louder,….Loquacious… Unusual ….Normally quiet as a person under ether…..”
Suddenly he stopped. His face contorted with pain. His legs buckled and he fell on his knees.
He had written that “Narcotic addiction will be a major problem in the U.S in the near future. But I maintain that we MDs should know more about the addicts themselves” He also added a series of instructions for emergency resuscitation. But there was no one to rescue him in the end and his body was discovered by his father the following morning. The big question that remained was- Was it a suicide?
The notes on the wall read –
- “Results will be recorded in an RX book. Have a university or any medical college give you an opinion of my findings. They better be good because I’m not going to repeat the experiment. I will not be able to observe vomiting, someone else do that. I drank one can of beer previous to medication.“
- “Speech and only tongue movable – Can’t understand that movable tongue and no speech. Voice O.K.; \
- “Staggering gait preceding paralysis”
- “Eyes mildly dilated. Vision excellent. Partial recovery. Called help.”
- “Convulsions decreased when brain functioned on thoughts. Deeper the thinking, less the paralysis and convulsions.”
In what may have been his final note, he wrote
“All memory gone. Phone numbers and addresses not clear that come. They must be there originally and are driven up by this super sensation.”
When his father found Katskee’s body the following morning, the rubber tube was still on his arm. Police found cocaine and morphine in containers near his body and they also found puncture marks suggesting Katskee had injected the morphine as well. There was also evidence that he had staggered around the room during the course of his convulsions and, possibly, had been trying to get help despite being disoriented.