The tragic story of Oliver Sacks’s celibacy

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Neurologist Oliver Sacks dies.

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.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.

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. The doctor who used unusual mental disorders to talk about larger themes of the human condition died of cancer, his longtime personal assistant told the New York Times.

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 — whom millions knew as the physician played by actor Robin Williams in the 1990 film “Awakenings” — revealed in February that he had terminal cancer.

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. 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”. 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. It included ageing, amnesia, colour, deafness, dreams, ferns, Freud, hallucinations, neural Darwinism, phantom limbs, photography, pre-Columbian history, swimming and twins. “I am very tenacious, for better or worse,” he wrote in A Leg to Stand On. “If my attention is engaged, I cannot disengage it. 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”. 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. Sacks’ view, as expressed in his 1995 book “An Anthropologist on Mars,” was that such disorders also came with a potential that could bring out “latent powers, developments, evolutions, forms of life that might never be seen, or even be imaginable.” “The brain is the most intricate mechanism in the universe,” he said in a People magazine interview. “I couldn’t imagine spending my life with kidneys.” At times in his life he struggled with drug abuse and acute shyness and he suffered from prosopagnosia, a disorder that leaves victims unable to recognize faces. 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 reviewing what would turn out to be his last book, the autobiography On the Move, Appignanesi writes: His heroes are not Balzac’s provincials on the make in the glittering capital of corruption, but autistic boys with a genius for drawing or prime numbers; or a man afflicted by the tics and uncontrollable swearing of Tourette syndrome; or Dr P, a distinguished musician who has lost the ability to recognise faces but sees them where they are not.

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. 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. 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. 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.

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. 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. Among critics and readers, he became known for his ability to eloquently capture in his descriptions the most confounding neurological disorders, from Tourette’s syndrome to autism to phantom limb syndrome to Alzheimer’s disease. “There was a hint of a smile on his face,” Dr.

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 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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