‘Awakenings’ author, neurologist Oliver Sacks dies at 82

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Mind explorer’ Oliver Sacks charted strangest territory of disorder.

As a medical doctor and a writer, Dr. Oliver Sacks, the world-renowned neurologist and author who chronicled maladies and ennobled the afflicted in books that were regarded as masterpieces of medical literature, died Aug. 30 at his home in Manhattan. Indeed the man known as the “poet laureate of medicine” spent his life unravelling the mysteries of the human mind, pioneering the “neurological novel” – case studies of patients given life far beyond the forensic – in the process.

Across his 13 books – and of course the 1990 film adaptation of Awakenings, starring Robin Williams as the doctor himself – Dr Sacks imparted his findings and encounters with his case studies through accessible, often moving prose, all of which touched on things to which we can all relate. More than 1 million copies of his books are in print in the United States, his work was adapted for film and stage, and he received about 10,000 letters a year. Awakenings was Dr Sacks’ account of how he brought a group of patients “back to life” after they spent years in “frozen states” after an illness. Sacks announced in an op-ed in The New York Times that he was suffering from the late stages of terminal cancer after a metastases from an ocular tumor had spread to his liver. “A month ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health.

Prodigiously successful, Dr Sacks was sometimes criticised for being perceived as exploiting his patients for personal gain; he always contended, however, that he meant only to show his subjects respect. Here are some of his best words, from his “neurological novels” as he called them, from interviews and from his recently released autobiography, On The Move: A Life. “I sometimes wonder why I pushed myself so relentlessly in weight lifting. Dr Sacks, who was born in London but lived in New York since 1965, was the author of several other books about unusual medical conditions, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat and The Island Of The Colorblind. Far and away Dr Sacks’ most famous work, the titular character is one Dr P, a talented musician with visual agnosia, a rare disorder that affects his ability to distinguish between living things and inanimate objects; he also has trouble recognising faces. “There was a hint of a smile on his face. My motive, I think, was not an uncommon one; I was not the ninety-eight-pound weakling of bodybuilding advertisements, but I was timid, diffident, insecure, submissive.

Sacks variously described his books and essays as case histories, pathographies, clinical tales, or “neurological novels.” His subjects included Madeleine J., a blind woman who perceived her hands only as useless “lumps of dough”; Jimmie G., a submarine radio operator whose amnesia stranded him for more than three decades in 1945; and Dr. He was awarded several honorary degrees recognising his contribution to science and literature, as well as a CBE in 2008 in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

I became strong — very strong — with all my weight lifting but found that this did nothing for my character, which remained exactly the same.” “Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional. In February, Sacks wrote an op-ed piece for the Times in which he announced that he had a rare type of cancer that had metastasized in his liver and he had months to live. “Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts,” Sacks wrote. “This does not mean I am finished with life. She said she received an email from Dr Sacks’ long-time PA saying the neurologist had “a very good death, in the same way that he’d had a very good life”. Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation.” “Now that we can listen to anything we like on our iPods, we have less motivation to go to concerts or churches or synagogues, less occasion to sing together.

One of the London-born academic’s first books, Awakenings, about how he used an experimental drug to awaken patients who had been in a coma-like state for years was turned into a movie starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams and was nominated for three Academy Awards, including best picture. He taught us a great deal, right up until the very end. “He always taught us what it was to be human, and he taught us what it is to die.” Paying tribute to Dr Sacks, she added: “To say he was unique is for once in the world true. “He was completely himself – eccentric, but in a marvellous way. The Oscar-nominated movie tells how dozens of men and women rendered virtually immobile for decades by a rare (and supposedly incurable) form of encephalitis, are given the experimental drug L-dopa.

In a video posted on his YouTube channel, Saks explained that “the act of writing, when it goes well, gives me a pleasure, a joy, unlike any other.” As a prolific writer who was able to make science accessible to masses of readers, Sacks was adept at using the range of human experience to try to explain how the brain worked. He was just completely full of love for life and very impish, and he was childish in the very best sense.” Other tributes to the author have been paid on Twitter, including by the author JK Rowling, who called him “great, humane and inspirational”. Using a typewriter or writing in longhand, Sacks’ authored more than a dozen books, filling them with detailed, years-long case histories of patients who often became his friends. His wife looked as if she was used to such things.” Also detailed in the book is the case of a woman who feels as if she has no connection to her own body – her hands are, to her “lumps of clay – as her condition, proprioception, worsens.” Dr Sacks is himself featured in the book: The essay “The Dog Beneath the Skin”, about a 22-year-old student who wakes up after a bit of a bender involving cocaine, amphetamines and angel dust and discovers that his sense of smell is heightened beyond reason. An extended version of an essay he had written two years earlier called “The leg”, Dr Sacks wrote of the strange experience he had while recovering from a serious leg injury he suffered from a fall in a remote part of Norway.

I still have my iPod (it contains the complete works of Bach), but I also need to make music every day.” “I do not know how much a propensity to addiction is “hardwired” or how much it depends on circumstances or state of mind. Although some have accused Sacks of exploiting his own patients for profit, he wrote about his subjects with a “capacious 19th-century humanity,” wrote Lisa Appignanesi in the Guardian earlier this year. While recuperating from surgery to have his quadriceps muscle reattached, Dr Sacks discovered that his leg no longer felt as if it was part of his body, which hindered his progress in learning to walk again. Sacks wrote in “A Leg to Stand On” (1984), about his own experiences recovering from muscle surgery. “I had explored many strange, neuropsychological lands — the furthest Arctics and Tropics of neurological disorder.” He was also a man of contradictions: candid and guarded, gregarious and solitary, clinical and compassionate, scientific and poetic, British and almost American. “In 1961, I declared my intention to become a United States citizen, which may have been a genuine intention, but I never got round to it,” he told The Guardian in 2005.

The most famous of his patients were the ones he documented in his book “Awakenings,” published in 1973 and later adapted into director Penny Marshall’s Academy Award-nominated film. In the thrall of amphetamines, sleep was impossible, food was neglected, and everything was subordinated to the stimulation of the pleasure centers in my brain.” “My analyst tells me he’s never encountered anyone less affected by gay liberation.

I remain locked in my cell despite the dancing at the prison gates.” “People will make a life in their own terms, whether they are deaf or colourblind or autistic or whatever. No mere objects of hasty clinical notes, or articles in professional journals, his “patients” are transformed by his interest, sympathetic gaze and ability to convey optimism in tragedy into grand characters who can transcend their conditions. In hopes of keeping him safe from the Nazis’ bombing blitz of London during World War Two, his parents sent him away to a school and the shy young Sacks turned to science.

Professor Sacks, who had cancer, was often described as the ‘poet laureate of medicine’, thanks to both his pioneering work with the mentally ill and his gift for writing about it. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it the fate – the genetic and neural fate – of every human to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.” Sacks started his clinical career there, in 1966, many of the patients had been catatonic, locked inside themselves for decades as a result of their “sleeping sickness.” Dr.

Instead of simply seeing his patients or cases as victims, Sacks often chose to focus “on how a neural abnormality can create surprising ability,” notes Bloomberg. They had been untreated and virtually frozen in catatonic states for decades until Sacks administered an experimental psychoactive drug known as L-dopa.

Sacks gave them the drug L-dopa, which was just beginning to be recognized as a treatment for similar symptoms in patients with Parkinson’s, then watched as they emerged into a world they did not recognize. The drug had an explosive “awakening” effect on the patients but the experiment trailed into failure as they developed tics, seizures or manic behavior and had trouble adjusting to the contemporary world. Sacks wrestled with misgivings about the Pandora’s box that might be opened by attempting to chemically rouse people who for so long had been removed from the world. I wish you had never been born,” her mother told an 18-year-old Sacks. “The matter was never mentioned again, but her harsh words made me hate religion’s capacity for bigotry and cruelty.” The ending of the essay was the most poignant though, giving the reader an insight into how the writer and scientist was coming to peace with his own demise: And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself.

Among those paying tribute yesterday were historian Simon Schama, who described the news of his death as ‘devastating’; biologist Richard Dawkins, who said he ‘greatly admired’ Sacks; and J. He disagreed with the Harvard psychologist and author Steven Pinker’s view of music as “auditory cheesecake, an evolutionary accident piggybacking on language,” and pointed to its ability to reach dementia patients as evidence that music appreciation is hard-wired into the brain. “I haven’t heard of a human being who isn’t musical, or who doesn’t respond to music one way or another,” he told an audience at Columbia University in 2006. “I think we are an essentially, profoundly musical species. In more recent years, that life had formed the basis of a trio of colourful memoirs, the last of which, On The Move, has been in the bestseller lists for the past six months. Sacks said he was “publicly roasted” by medical professionals who, in his view, “felt threatened by notions of uncontrollability and unpredictability that reflected on their own power and reflected on the power of science.” The movie “Awakenings,” in which Dr. The fourth and youngest son of Jewish doctors, he grew up in a large house in London’s Willesden Green which is today the HQ of the British Association of Psychotherapists.

But in “Uncle Tungsten,” his 2001 memoir about his childhood love of chemistry, he said that the inflamed Zionist meetings his parents held before the war helped turn him away from organized religion. Elsie, who wanted her sons to pursue careers in science, would bring home human foetuses in jam jars, and dissect them in front of her sons to teach them about the brain. Sacks moved to America in the early 1960s for an internship at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco, then did his residency at the University of California, Los Angeles.

There, according to a recent magazine profile, ‘they subsisted on meagre rations of turnips and beetroot and suffered cruel punishments at the hands of a sadistic headmaster’. In 2007, at 74, he severed his 42-year relationship with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to accept an interdisciplinary teaching position at Columbia. For several years, he spent his free time bodybuilding (holding a California record, for a ‘full squat’ with 600 lb across his shoulders), riding motorcycles (he was consulting physician for the Hell’s Angels), and taking vast amounts of LSD. ‘I lived on Venice Beach, and disguised myself as a muscle builder at the open air jungle gym,’ he once said. ‘I was quite suicidal: I took every drug, my only principle being “every dose an overdose”.

On Aug. 10, his assistant, Edgar, who described herself as his “collaborator, friend, researcher, and editor” as well, wrote in an e-mail: “He is still writing with great clarity. After a brief period in which patients appeared to recover, Sacks was dismayed to observe that many such as Leonard Lowe would begin to suffer from ticks and seizures, a side effect of treatment with L-dopa. His timidity was so great, he wrote in a memoir of his youth, “Uncle Tungsten” (2001), that he “identified at times with the inert gases . . . imagining them lonely, cut off, yearning to bond.” Both his parents, he said, were “medical storytellers.” He went on house calls with his father, a Yiddish-speaking doctor, and studied anatomy with his mother, a surgeon who sought to instill in her son a love of anatomy by performing dissections with him. “You are an abomination,” she told him, Dr. In 1960, he embarked on a vacation in North America and, on arriving in Canada, sent his parents a telegram that read: “Staying.” He hitchhiked his way to San Francisco, where he took up motorcycles and befriended the British-born poet and counterculture figure Thom Gunn, who had written a verse titled “The Allegory of the Wolf Boy.” “He speaks of the duplicity of the wolf boy, between his social life and his nocturnal, that appealed to me very much, the more so as my middle name is Wolf,” Dr.

They matter less.’ ” He published his first book, “Migraine,” in 1970, after treating patients who suffered from the debilitating headaches that he also had experienced since boyhood. Sacks described himself as “a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.” Those passions included swimming (he swam every day), music (he was a fine pianist) and botany (he favored cycads).

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