Posted by: bluelion | April 4, 2016

Let’s read… dr Sacks

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#45 Oliver Sacks: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (Picador, 2015)

It was an absolutely fascinating read. Sacks presented extraordinarily interesting cases with such empathy that it was heartbreaking to follow them most of the time. With numerous literary and philosophical references, also citing all relevant neurological works, it was a feast for the mind. Dr Sacks wrote a fully comprehensive book about several types of mental/neurological disorders in a highly readable book, even with all the dictionary use it involved for me. (I don’t usually have to look up many words but this text gave me some work.) I was so deeply engaged in the stories I even had dreams about them.

After the first two chapters, I had a dream about some of my high school classmates/friends. All the girls were fine but the two boys turned out to have brain tumours. The dream haunted me all day until I finally deciphered it. I was reading about ‘The Lost Mariner’ (Chapter 2) before going to sleep. The patient had Korsakoff Syndrome and thought it was 1945 when he was 19 years old. It was in fact 30 years later when the author met him. Such a retrograde amnesia may be the result of a growing tumour in the brain, as well as drinking excess alcohol, Sacks says, so my mind presented two male friends who I had rarely seen since we were 19, and diagnosed them accordingly. All the cases were sad but somehow this one affected me most. When the patient suddenly realized the truth for moments and was gripped by terror, it was horrible. Worse than the cases in which the patient had no idea that there was a problem. In those situations, the spouses or relatives had to bear the burden of their disease, and it was for them that my heart broke to a million pieces.

For the first four chapters, there wasn’t even any hope for a solution. So chapter 5’s major improvement was like redemption for me. I needed that so much! I was absolutely thrilled. Then, in chapter 7, I loved how the patient wanted to find a solution himself. He wasn’t waiting for others to do something. He invented special spectacles for treating his condition! That’s the spirit!

There was a case description I was half looking for in the book until I realised it was mentioned in this TED talk he gave in 2009 about Charles Bonnet syndrome. He also reveals what his visual hallucinations are like at the end of the talk. Absolutely worth watching, have a look!

There is an error in my ebook edition: everything is said to be at ‘chapter 9’ but the links work fine. It also has an extraordinary addition at the end in the form of an afterword by Oliver Sacks, written 30 years after the original publication of this book, in 2015. There is an update on Witty Ticcy Ray, and a summary of what other cases in this book inspired him to research in his later works. He humbly admits that this book (and himself) is credited for a revival of writing case histories. In 2015, the year of his death: a fact I was just confronted with. Rest in peace, Dr Sacks! Thank you for your empathy and the most interesting case studies.

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