Neurologist, author Oliver Sacks dies at age 82

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A look at the life of neurologist Dr Oliver Sacks.

Neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks was born in London in 1933 into a family of physicians and scientists – his mother was a surgeon and his father a general practitioner.Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and author whose books and case histories in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books introduced a lay audience to the furthest corners of human consciousness, died Sunday at his home in New York City.

Oliver Sacks, whose books like “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat” probed distant ranges of human experience by compassionately portraying people with severe and sometimes bizarre neurological conditions, has died. He earned his medical degree at Oxford University (Queen’s College), and did residencies and fellowship work at Mt Zion Hospital in San Francisco and at UCLA in the US. The London-born academic, whose book ‘Awakenings’ inspired the Oscar-nominated film of the same name, wrote: “A month ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health. From 2007 to 2012, he served as a professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Centre, and he was also designated the university’s first Columbia University Artist. In his best-selling 1985 book, he described a man who really did mistake his wife’s face for his hat while visiting Sacks’ office, because his brain had difficulty interpreting what he saw.

In 1966, Dr Sacks began working as a consulting neurologist for Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx, a chronic care hospital where he encountered an extraordinary group of patients – many of whom had spent decades in strange, frozen states, like human statues, unable to initiate movement. He moved to America in the early 1960s for an internship at San Francisco’s Mount Zion Hospital, after which he was a resident at UCLA. “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 recognised these patients as survivors of the great pandemic of sleepy sickness that had swept the world from 1916 to 1927, and treated them with a then-experimental drug, L-dopa, which enabled them to come back to life. I think it may go with a slight feeling that this was only an extended visit,” he told the Guardian in 2005. “I rather like the words ‘resident alien’. They became the subjects of his book, Awakenings, which later inspired a play by Harold Pinter – A Kind of Alaska – and the Oscar-nominated feature film Awakenings with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.

Still another book, “An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales,” published in 1995, described cases like a painter who lost color vision in a car accident but found new creative power in black-and-white. He investigated the world of deaf people and sign language in Seeing Voices, and a rare community of colour blind people in The Island of the Colorblind.

His autobiographical Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood was published in 2001, and his most recent books have been Musicophilia, The Mind’s Eye, and Hallucinations. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru. On the Move, the second instalment in his memoir, pictured a youthful, leather-and-jean-clad Sacks astride a large motorbike, not unlike Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones. This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. 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.

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