Remembering Oliver Sacks, a man of incredible empathy, dignity and depth

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Oliver Sacks is remembered as scientist and poet.

Oliver Sacks, the acclaimed neurologist and author who introduced the world to what brain disorders can teach us about our minds, died on Sunday in his New York City home. Oliver Sacks was the neurologist and acclaimed author who explored some of the brain’s strangest pathways in best-selling case histories like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, using his patients’ disorders as starting points for eloquent meditations on consciousness and the human condition.The cause of death was cancer, Kate Edgar, his longtime personal assistant, told the New York Times, which had published an essay by Sacks in February revealing that an earlier melanoma in his eye had spread to his liver and that he was in the late stages of terminal cancer. 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.

Dr Sacks’ long-time personal assistant confirmed that he had died on Saturday at his home in New York, where he had lived since 1965 after being born in London to his surgeon father and GP mother. More than a 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. (“I invariably reply to people under 10, over 90 or in prison,” he once said.) 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. Among those who paid tribute to Dr Sacks, renowned for his ability to straddle academic and artistic disciplines while often combining both in his writing, were the author JK Rowling, who described him as “great, humane and inspirational”. In his emphasis on case histories, Sacks modelled himself after a questing breed of 19th-century physicians, who well understood how little they and their peers knew about the workings of the human animal and who saw medical science as a vast, largely uncharted wilderness to be tamed. “I had always liked to see myself as a naturalist or explorer,” 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.” His intellectual curiosity took him even further. Dr Sacks recognised the patients, based in a ward in a psychiatric hospital in the Bronx, as victims of sleeping sickness, the pandemic which swept the world between 1916 and 1927.

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. It’s a long-term project, it will probably take at least 30 or 50 years.” It was perhaps his continuous enthusiasm and deep compassion with patients that made Sacks such an infectious spirit. She told BBC News: “He died surrounded by the things he loved and the people he loved, very peacefully… He taught us a great deal, right up until the very end.

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 often described seeing patients as “an adventure, and a form of discovery,” profiling among many a doctor diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome and a man who lost the ability to decipher what he was seeing. “As a physician, I have to try and define what’s going on, and to reassure people, especially to reassure them that they’re not going insane,” said Sacks in a 2009 TED talk. “I want to know what all of my patients experience,” he told Charlie Rose in a 1995 interview.

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. 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. When 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”. Sacks gave them the drug L-dopa, which was just beginning to be recognised as a treatment for similar symptoms in patients with Parkinson’s, then watched as they emerged into a world they did not recognise. 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.

I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and travelled and thought and written… Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.” Has a comment offended you? Some responded better than others – both to the drug and to their changed circumstances – and Sacks used his book to explore the differences and celebrate his patients’ limited rebirth.

His other books included the best-selling An Anthropologist on Mars (1995), about autistic savants and other patients who managed to thrive with their disorders; The Mind’s Eye (2010), about the ways people compensate for brain injuries; and three books about specific neurological conditions: Migraine (1970), The Island of the Colorblind (1997) and Seeing Voices (1989), a look at language perception among the deaf. 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. Verified email addresses: All users on Independent Media news sites are now required to have a verified email address before being allowed to comment on articles.

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. 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. Oliver Wolf Sacks was born on July 9, 1933, in London, the youngest of four sons of Samuel Sacks and the former Muriel Elsie Landau, who were both doctors.

After receiving his medical degree from the Queen’s College, Oxford, 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. When he discontinued the drug, the patients reverted to their trancelike states. “One or two of them said to me, ‘You open the window and you raise unbearable hopes and prospects,’ ” he told The Washington Post. “And now you close it.” In 1970, Dr.

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. 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. I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment’s abatement of my spirits. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company. “I am … a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions.” – © Guardian News & Media 2015 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.

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. I,” had been injured in a car accident that had left him able to see only in black and white. “He would glare at an orange in a state of rage, trying to force it to resume its true color,” Dr.

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. 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 at times seemed as unusual as the patients who populated his books. “There will be no one like us when we are gone,” he wrote in the Times essay announcing his impending death, “but then there is no one like anyone else, ever.”

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