Remembering Oliver Sacks

Dr. Oliver Sacks, the former weight lifter who brought zombies to life, told stories of the little things that made special brains tick, wrote medical case histories so interesting they were turned into movies, and uncovered the mysteries behind why a man would mistake his wife for a hat, died on August 30th.sacks

He was a neurologist who worked one on one, in a very personal manner, and probed the meaning of the mental disorders his patients displayed. He thought of himself as an obsessional, so much so that he would not only get to know their brains but also their history, their life, and who they are. Doctors would send their patients to him, and eventually he would send them back with the roots of their problems. He even wrote about his own brain’s quirks; he was unable to recognize faces and he was blind in one eye from a tumor. He had always been a bit of a scatterbrain. In college, after performing horribly on his anatomy exam, he went to a bar and drank. When he came back he asked to take an essay exam that was already well into the time allotted. His essay on brain structure and function won the university prize.

Not only did he discover principles of brain science, he also had a talent for writing, lyrically describing of the behavior of imperfect minds. When he wrote case histories, they were more than facts— they were stories, or as he called them, “neurological novels.” These books include, “The Man who Mistook His Wife For a Hat and Other Clinical Tales,” about a man whose brain cannot decipher what his eyes see, and “Awakenings” which was ultimately turned into a movie starring Robin Williams. It was about survivors of the 1920s encephalitis lethargica epidemic also known as “sleepy sickness.” They could eat, walk, catch, and do most basic movements but were in an unconscious trance. Dr. Sacks gave the patients a new drug, L-DOPA, and within days they were completely cured. But after two weeks, the patients became unresponsive to the drug no matter how high their dosages increased. He was not always so successful. He was a medical researcher but had to give up. He lost samples and broke machines. Eventually they told him, “Sacks, you’re a menace. Get out. Go see patients. They matter less.”

Sacks embraced and appreciated the peculiarities of the human brain. He found it fascinating, “how this wonderful two or three pounds of stuff in the head is able to underlie our imagination, underlie our soul, our individuality.”


–Nick Meyers, Staff Writer

Posted by on September 24, 2015. Filed under World News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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