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Thread: Oliver Sacks, Eminent Neurologist and Awakenings Author, Dies Aged 82

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    Default Oliver Sacks, Eminent Neurologist and Awakenings Author, Dies Aged 82

    Hi everyone,
    It is with a heavy heart that I tell you that Oliver Sacks has passed away.
    Steve had updated us in February in Oliver Sacks: His Own Life
    that he had multiple metastases in the liver and did not expect to live much longer.
    However, I can't believe his bright light has dimmed in this world.
    He will always be remembered for his brilliant work and writing.

    Here is a tribute from the Guardian:
    Oliver Sacks, eminent neurologist and Awakenings author, dies aged 82
    Tina, Forum Moderator, TSFC Staff Liaison

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    Default Re: Oliver Sacks, Eminent Neurologist and Awakenings Author, Dies Aged 82

    Another tribute from the CBC:

    Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author, dead at 82
    Renowned neurologist, author wrote books such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat
    Thomson Reuters Posted: Aug 30, 2015 9:59 AM ET| Last Updated: Aug 30, 2015 9:59 AM ET
    Last edited by Tina; August 30, 2015 at 01:10 PM.
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    Default Re: Oliver Sacks, Eminent Neurologist and Awakenings Author, Dies Aged 82

    Oliver Sacks, neurologist - obituary
    The Telegraph
    August 30, 2015

    Neurologist who chronicled the dignified struggle of his patients in books such as Awakenings

    Oliver Sacks, the neurologist who has died aged 82, wrote perceptive accounts of intriguing neurological disorders in books such as Awakenings (1973) and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985); away from his work he was variously a biker, weightlifter and wild swimmer.

    Sacks’s writing fascinated and inspired writers and film directors and showed how patients who are isolated by disease can still retain their dignity and humanity.

    Sacks’s subjects were people afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations; people who had lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; people unable to recognise common objects; Tourette’s syndrome sufferers stricken with violent tics and grimaces and unable to stop themselves shouting obscenities; sufferers from Asperger’s syndrome who cannot relate to other people but often possess uncanny artistic or mathematical talents.

    In his best-known book, Awakenings, Sacks told the extraordinary story of a group of patients at Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx where he worked as a consultant neurologist. The patients were survivors of the great epidemic of encephalitis lethargica (sleeping sickness) that had swept the world from 1916 to 1927, and had spent the subsequent decades in a comatose state, unable to initiate movement.

    Their cause had long been given up as hopeless, until 1969, when Sacks tried the – then new – Parkinson’s disease drug L-dopa, which had an astonishing “awakening” effect, transforming previously lifeless individuals into personable and intelligent human beings. Tragically, most of the patients eventually returned to their former frozen state as the drug ceased to have an effect.

    W H Auden declared Awakenings to be a masterpiece of medical literature. It inspired a play by Harold Pinter and an Oscar-nominated film starring Robin Williams as the dedicated doctor and Robert De Niro as a patient temporarily freed from years of catatonia.

    Sacks wrote several books of case histories of which the best known was The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, a series of accounts, including that of the titular man: a music teacher whose visual agnosia made it impossible for him to recognise everyday objects and caused him to try to pick up his wife’s head and put it on his own as if it were a hat. The story inspired an opera of the same name by Michael Nyman and The Man Who, a play by Peter Brook.

    Sacks’s ability to combine scientific detachment with sympathetic understanding of the pathos of his patients’ predicaments and the astonishing resilience of human life, gave his books enormous poise and power.

    Sacks was just as precise and affecting when analysing his own life. One of his most moving accounts was that of his own singularly traumatic childhood, which he described with his characteristic mix of detachment and engagement in Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (2001). More intimate details materialised in his autobiography On the Move (2015) in which he revealed his past drug use – “staggering bouts of pharmacological experimentation”, noted one reviewer – and his private life.

    Sacks never married, lived alone for most of his life and was chronically shy. In the book, however, he revealed details of his homosexuality. In America he pumped iron on Venice’s Muscle Beach and became a leather-clad biker. He wrote that he was in thrall to “images of bikers and cowboys and pilots, whom I imagined to be in precarious but jubilant control of their powerful mounts”. On learning of her son’s sexuality, however, his mother exclaimed: “You are an abomination. I wish you had never been born”. When he turned 40 Sacks had a week-long liaison with a Harvard student. “After that sweet birthday fling,” he recalled, “I was to have no sex for the next thirty-five years.”

    Oliver Wolf Sacks was born on July 9 1933 into a Jewish family in Cricklewood, north London, the youngest of four sons of a pair of wealthy physicians. He had an idyllic early childhood, waited on by an army of servants and spoilt by a vast extended family of remarkable intellectual brilliance.

    Among a gallery of eccentric uncles and aunts were a pioneer radiologist, a prominent Zionist who was entrusted with the translation of the Balfour Declaration into French and Russian, and a physicist who developed Marmite and invented a luminous paint used in the Second World War. A cousin, Abba Eban, would become the first Israeli ambassador to the UN.
    This idyll was rudely shattered by the outbreak of war when young Oliver, then aged six, and his elder brother Michael, were evacuated to a Midlands boarding school called Braefield. There they were subjected to a regime of unrelenting cruelty by a headmaster who was “unhinged by his own power ... vicious and sadistic”.

    The experience drove his brother mad and robbed Oliver of his faith in God. He was left with a host of phobias. His response was to take refuge in the unthreatening and impersonal world of science and mathematics. One of his aunts, a botanist, took him to Kew Gardens and the Natural History Museum, where dioramas of archaic plants and ferns, including the Jurassic cycads, became his “dreamscapes”, evoking “an Eden of the remote past.”

    But what really caught his imagination was chemistry. It was one of his mother’s 17 siblings, his uncle Dave (or “Uncle Tungsten”) the owner of a light bulb factory in Farringdon, who opened his nephew’s eyes to the magical world of atoms and molecules. Back home, young Oliver was given a free rein by his busy parents to conduct his own experiments.
    In a makeshift laboratory in the family home, he proceeded to produce clouds of noxious-smelling chemicals, making “volcanoes” with ammonium dichromate, setting fire to the garden and, on one occasion, burning off his brother’s eyebrows. At St Paul’s School, he shared his passion with Jonathan Miller who accompanied him when on one memorable occasion he dropped 3lb of pure sodium into Highgate Ponds.

    Sacks read deeply, delving into 18th and 19th-century texts to understand how the sciences had evolved. His great heroes were Humphry Davy, Marie Curie and Dmitri Mendeleev, the inventor of the periodic table – a chemical chart which gave the young Sacks intimations of “the transcendent power of the human mind”.

    But Oliver’s mother, an obstetrician-gynaecologist, was determined that her son should follow her into the medical profession and took pains to ensure that he became acquainted with anatomy by bringing home malformed foetuses for him to dissect, an exercise that filled him with revulsion. “She never perceived, I think, how distressed I became,” Sacks wrote, “and probably imagined that I was as enthusiastic as she was.”

    Later, when he was 14, she arranged his first experience of dissecting a human corpse – the body of a girl . “Delight in understanding and appreciating anatomy was lost, for the most part, in the horror of the dissection,” he recalled. “I did not know if I would ever be able to love the warm, quick bodies of the living after facing, smelling and cutting the formalin-reeking corpse of a girl my own age.”

    Yet, Sacks did become interested, and went on to take degrees in Physiology, Biology and Medicine at Queen’s College, Oxford, and at Middlesex Hospital Medical School, later taking junior medical posts at the hospital.

    By this time he had become fascinated by neurology and in 1960 moved to Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco to study the subject. In California he rode with the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club and won a state championship for weightlifting .

    At the hospital he once dropped his lunch into a centrifuge; “I was always dropping things or breaking things,” he confessed, “and eventually they said: 'Get out! Go work with patients. They’re less important’.”

    His banishment from the laboratory took him in 1965 to Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx – the hospital in Awakenings. At the same time he was appointed instructor in neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and as a consultant neurologist at the Headache Unit, Montefiore Hospital. From 1971 he was consultant neurologist to New York’s Little Sisters of the Poor, a home for the aged, and from 1992 was adjunct professor of neurology at the New York University School of Medicine.

    Sacks wrote a total of 13 books, including: Migraine (1970), A Leg to Stand On (1984, detailing his recovery from a mountaineering accident), Seeing Voices (1989) – which examined the world of the deaf as seen by the deaf themselves – and The Island of the Colourblind (1996). In 2001 Sacks was treated for an ocular melanoma – which he wrote about in The Mind’s Eye (2010). Earlier this year he announced that the cancer had spread to his liver and he had only months to live.

    He won numerous awards, including being appointed CBE in 2008. Yet he had little regard for status. He never bothered about his clothes and as a keen swimmer would turn up to interviews with his “swim-bag”. He lived on City Island (which he would swim around) in the Bronx and kept an office in Greenwich Village, where he showed visitors his collection of artefacts, maps, lumps of metal and unusual plants – the mementoes of a peripatetic life.

    Sacks was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, though he claimed: “the only memberships I enjoy are in the British Pteridological Society and the American Fern Society”.

    Oliver Sacks, born July 9 1933, died August 30 2015

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    Default Re: Oliver Sacks, Eminent Neurologist and Awakenings Author, Dies Aged 82

    He'll surely be missed. I feel like we owe Oliver Sacks so much for his writings about Tourettes, and other things neurological, that made people aware. A sad day.

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    Default Re: Oliver Sacks, Eminent Neurologist and Awakenings Author, Dies Aged 82

    Indeed Twidget. Dr. Sacks spread awareness about many disorders like Tourette, Autism and other similar conditions to show that it is possible to have a normal life even with abnormal circumstances.

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    Default Re: Oliver Sacks, Eminent Neurologist and Awakenings Author, Dies Aged 82

    Oliver Sacks, MD, Story-telling Neurologist, Dies at 82
    Medscape Medical News
    August 30, 2015

    Oliver Sacks, MD, the neurologist and best-selling author who wrote about the human spirit as much as the human brain, died today at the age of 82.

    The British-born author of Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat announced in a New York Times op-ed piece in February that he had terminal liver cancer. The tributes that normally come after the funeral rolled in beforehand for Dr Sacks to appreciate. Sandeep Jauhar, MD, PhD, author of Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician, said Dr Sacks demonstrated that it was possible to be both a physician and a writer, and that the two pursuits "could nourish each other."

    "Sacks wrote about his neurologically quirky characters with so much sincerity and humanity that he made you want to go anywhere with him, both in the literary sense but also in a personal sense," Dr Jauhar told Medscape Neurology earlier this year. "He seemed to be such a good, caring doctor and human being, the kind of person you'd want as a best friend."

    Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, the chair of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, recalled Dr Sacks as a stout "gnome-like little man" with a twinkle in his eye whose clinical reports read like short stories. "Oliver was a uniquely gifted person with amazing observational and expressive talents," Dr Lieberman told Medscape Neurology.

    Dr. Sacks' final months were literary to the end. In April, his memoir, On the Move, was published. The cover features a photograph of a muscular young man in a leather jacket astride a motorcycle. He continued to publish op-ed pieces in the New York Times, the last appearing on August 14. Titled "Sabbath," this personal essay described a strict Orthodox Jewish upbringing (no turning on the stove or other work on the Sabbath) and a subsequent search for personal rest. He began to find it at Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx during the 1960s where he "felt something of a mission" to tell the stories of the catatonic patients whom he revived with the drug L-dopa. They would become the subjects of his 1973 book Awakenings, which later achieved a life on stage and film.

    "I had discovered my vocation, and this I pursued doggedly, single-mindedly, with little encouragement from my colleagues," he wrote. "Almost unconsciously, I became a story teller at a time when the medical narrative was almost extinct."

    Other books by Dr Sacks depicted how people lived with neurological conditions that ranged from Tourette's syndrome and autism to Alzheimer's disease and musical hallucination.

    His career path as a clinician seemed determined from his birth in 1933. His mother was a surgeon; his father, a general practitioner. Dr Sacks earned his medical degree at Oxford University and went on to residency training and fellowship studies at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco and the University of California–Southern California. At the time of his death, he was a professor of neurology at New York University School of Medicine.

    In his last published piece in the New York Times from 2 weeks ago, Dr Sacks took one final look in print at his life.

    "I find my thoughts drifting back to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week," he wrote, "and perhaps the seventh day of one's life as well, when one can feel that one's work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest."

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    Default Re: Oliver Sacks, Eminent Neurologist and Awakenings Author, Dies Aged 82

    From the New York Times

    Oliver Sacks, Casting Light on the Interconnectedness of Life
    By MICHIKO KAKUTANIAUG. 30, 2015

    It’s no coincidence that so many of the qualities that made Oliver Sacks such a brilliant writer are the same qualities that made him an ideal doctor: keen powers of observation and a devotion to detail, deep reservoirs of sympathy, and an intuitive understanding of the fathomless mysteries of the human brain and the intricate connections between the body and the mind.

    Dr. Sacks, who died on Sunday at 82, was a polymath and an ardent humanist, and whether he was writing about his patients, or his love of chemistry or the power of music, he leapfrogged among disciplines, shedding light on the strange and wonderful interconnectedness of life — the connections between science and art, physiology and psychology, the beauty and economy of the natural world and the magic of the human imagination.

    In his writings, as he once said of his mentor, the great Soviet neuropsychologist and author A. R. Luria, “science became poetry.”

    In books like “Awakenings,” “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” and “An Anthropologist on Mars,” Dr. Sacks — a longtime practicing doctor and a professor of neurology at the New York University School of Medicine — gave us case studies of patients whose stories were so odd, so anomalous, so resonant that they read like tales by Borges or Calvino. A man, with acute amnesia, who loses three decades of his life and lives wholly in the immediate present, unable to remember anything for more than a minute or two. Savant twins, who can’t deal with the most mundane tasks of daily life but can perform astonishing numerical tricks, like memorizing 300-digit numbers or rattling off 20-digit primes. A blind poet who suffers from — or is gifted with — extraordinarily complex hallucinations: a milkman in an azure cart with a golden horse; small flocks of birds wearing shoes that metamorphose into men and women in medieval clothes.
    Dr. Sacks depicted such people not as scientific curiosities but as individuals who become as real to us as characters by Chekhov (another doctor who wrote with uncommon empathy and insight). He was concerned with the impact that his patients’ neurological disorders had on their day-to-day routines, their relationships and their inner lives. His case studies became literary narratives as dramatic, richly detailed and compelling as those by Freud and Luria — stories that underscored not the marginality of his patients’ experiences, but their part in the shared human endeavor and the flux and contingencies of life.

    Those case studies captured the emotional and metaphysical, as well as physiological, dimensions of his patients’ conditions. While they tracked the costs and isolation these individuals often endured, they also emphasized people’s resilience — their ability to adapt to their “deficits,” enabling them to hold onto a sense of identity and agency. Some even find that their conditions spur them to startling creative achievement.

    In fact, Dr. Sacks wrote in “An Anthropologist on Mars,” that illnesses and disorders “can play a paradoxical role in bringing out latent powers, developments, evolutions, forms of life that might never be seen or even be imaginable in their absence.” A young woman with a low I.Q. learns to sing arias in more than 30 languages, and a Canadian physician with Tourette’s syndrome learns to perform long, complicated surgical procedures without a single tic or twitch. Some scholars believe, Dr. Sacks once wrote, that Dostoyevsky and van Gogh may have had temporal lobe epilepsy, that Bartok and Wittgenstein may have been autistic, and that Mozart and Samuel Johnson could have had Tourette’s syndrome.


    In his later books, Dr. Sacks increasingly turned to chronicling his own life — from his deep love of chemistry as a boy in “Uncle Tungsten,” to his experiments with L.S.D. and amphetamines in “Hallucinations,” to his coming of age as a young man and as a doctor in “On the Move.” It was a life as eclectic and adventurous as his intellectual pursuits, taking him from medical school in England to a stint as a forest firefighter in British Columbia to medical residencies and fellowship work in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He held a weight-lifting record in California, and on weekends, sometimes drove hundreds of miles on his motorcycle, from California to Las Vegas or the Grand Canyon.
    Last edited by Tina; September 1, 2015 at 11:36 PM.
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