Saturday, October 31, 2015

Definition: Dr. Oliver Wolf Sacks

Oliver Sacks From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

SSTattler: "Sacks was the author of numerous best-selling books, mostly collections of case studies of people with neurological disorders.” You will have to read books from Sacks,... some are very good, very interesting, and partly about “stroke”. Try, for example, he wrote "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” and published in 1985. He died August 31, 2015.

Oliver Wolf Sacks - Physician, Professor, Author
at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival
Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE, FRCP (9 July 1933 – 30 August 2015) was a British neurologist and author who spent his professional life in the United States. He felt that the brain was the "most incredible thing in the universe" and therefore important to study. He became widely known for writing best-selling case histories about his patients' disorders, with some of his books adapted for film and stage.

After studying at The Queen's College, Oxford, where he received his medical degrees in 1960, he moved to the U.S. and completed his residency in neurology at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco. He relocated to New York in 1965, where he became professor of neurology at New York University School of Medicine. Between 2007 and 2012, he was professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University, where he also held the position of "Columbia Artist", which recognized his contributions to art and science. He was also a faculty member at Yeshiva University's Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and a visiting professor at the University of Warwick.

Sacks was the author of numerous best-selling books, mostly collections of case studies of people with neurological disorders. His writings have been featured in a wider range of media than any other contemporary medical author; the The New York Times called him a "poet laureate of contemporary medicine". His books included a wealth of narrative detail about his experiences with patients, and how they coped with their conditions, often illuminating how the normal brain deals with perception, memory and individuality.

Awakenings (1973), an autobiographical account of his efforts to help people with encephalitis lethargica regain proper neurological function, was adapted into the Academy Award-nominated film in 1990, starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. He and his book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain were the subject of "Musical Minds", an episode of the PBS series Nova. In 2008 Sacks was awarded a CBE for services to literature during the Queen's Birthday Honours.

Early Life

Sacks was born in Willesden, London, England, the youngest of four children born to Jewish parents: Samuel Sacks, a physician (died June 1990), and Muriel Elsie Landau, one of the first female surgeons in England. Sacks had a large extended family, including the director and writer Jonathan Lynn and first cousins, the Israeli statesman Abba Eban and the Nobel Laureate Robert Aumann.

When Sacks was six years old, he and his brother Michael were evacuated from London to escape the Blitz, retreating to a boarding school in the Midlands where he remained until 1943. Unknown to his family, at the school, he and his brother Michael "... subsisted on meagre rations of turnips and beetroot and suffered cruel punishments at the hands of a sadistic headmaster". He attended St Paul's School in London. During his youth he was a keen amateur chemist, as recalled in his memoir Uncle Tungsten. He also learned to share his parents' enthusiasm for medicine and entered The Queen's College, Oxford in 1951, obtaining a BA degree in physiology and biology in 1956.

Although not required, Sacks chose to stay on for an additional year to undertake research, after he had taken a course by Hugh Macdonald Sinclair. Sacks recalls, "I had been seduced by a series of vivid lectures on the history of medicine" and nutrition, given by Sinclair. Sacks adds, "And now, in Sinclair's lectures, it was the history of physiology, the ideas and personalities of physiologists, which came to life." Sacks then became involved with the school's Laboratory of Human Nutrition under Sinclair. Sacks focused his research on the toxic, and commonly abused drug Jamaica ginger, known to cause irreversible nerve damage. After devoting months to research, he was disappointed by the lack of help and guidance he received from Sinclair. Sacks wrote up an account of his research findings but stopped working on the subject. As a result he became depressed: "I felt myself sinking into a state of quiet but in some ways agitated despair." His tutor at Queen's and his parents, seeing his lowered emotional state, suggested he extricate himself from academic studies for a period. His parents then suggested he spend the summer of 1955 living on a kibbutz in Israel, where the physical labour would help him.

Sacks would later describe his experience on the kibbutz as an "anodyne to the lonely, torturing months in Sinclair's lab". He said he lost 60 pounds (27 kg) from his previously overweight body. He spent time travelling around the country, with time scuba diving at the Red Sea port city of Eilat, and began to reconsider his future: "I wondered again, as I had wondered when I first went to Oxford, whether I really wanted to become a doctor. I had become very interested in neurophysiology, but I also loved marine biology ... But I was 'cured' now; it was time to return to medicine, to start clinical work, seeing patients in London."

Medical School

"My pre-med studies in anatomy and physiology at Oxford had not prepared me in the least for real medicine. Seeing patients, listening to them, trying to enter (or at least imagine) their experiences and predicaments, feeling concerned for them, taking responsibility for them, was quite new to me ... It was not just a question of diagnosis and treatment; much graver questions could present themselves—questions about the quality of life and whether life was even worth living in some circumstances.
            by Oliver Sacks

Sacks began medical school in 1956 and for the next two and half years he took courses in medicine, surgery, orthopaedics, paediatrics, neurology, psychiatry, dermatology, infectious diseases, obstetrics and various other specialties. During his years as a student he helped home deliver a number of babies. He received an MA degree and BM BCh degree in 1958. He qualified for his internship that December, which he would begin at The Middlesex Hospital the following month. "My eldest brother, Marcus, had trained at the Middlesex," he said, "and now I was following his footsteps."

Before beginning his internship he said he first wanted some actual hospital experience to gain more confidence and he took a job at a hospital in St Albans, where his mother had worked as an emergency surgeon during the war. He then did his six-month internship at Middlesex hospital's medical unit followed by another six months in its neurological unit. He completed his internship in June 1960 but was uncertain about his future.

Sacks left England and flew into Montreal, Canada on 9 July, his 27th birthday. He visited the Montreal Neurological Institute and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), telling them that he wanted to be a pilot. After some interviews and checking his background, they told him he would be best in medical research. Dr. Taylor, the head medical officer, told him, "You are clearly talented, and we would love to have you, but I am not sure about your motives for joining." He was told to travel for a few months and reconsider. He used the next three months to travel across Canada and deep into the Canadian Rockies, which he described in his personal journal, later published as Canada: Pause, 1960.

He next made his way from there to the United States. He completed a residency in Neurology at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco, and fellowships in Neurology and Psychiatry at UCLA. During his time at UCLA he lived in Topanga Canyon and experimented with various recreational drugs. He described his experiences in a 2012 New Yorker article, and his book Hallucinations. He said that an amphetamine-facilitated epiphany that came as he read a book by the 19th century migraine physician Edward Liveing inspired him to chronicle his observations on neurological diseases and oddities; to become the "Liveing of our Time". In San Francisco Sacks became a friend of poet Thom Gunn, saying he loved his wild imagination, his strict control and perfect poetic form.


Sacks moved to the U.S. after a brief stay in Canada, and completed his residency in neurology at UCSF Medical Center's Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco. After finishing his residency in 1965, he relocated to New York, where he became professor of neurology at New York University School of Medicine. He remained with that institution for most of his career.

Sacks began consulting at chronic care facility Beth Abraham Hospital (now Beth Abraham Health Services, a member of CenterLight Health System) in the Bronx, in 1966. At Beth Abraham, Sacks worked with a group of survivors of the 1920s sleepy sickness, encephalitis lethargica, who had been unable to move on their own for decades. These patients and his treatment of them were the basis of Sacks' book Awakenings.

Sacks served as an instructor and later clinical professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine from 1966 to 2007, and also held an appointment at the New York University School of Medicine from 1992 to 2007. In July 2007 he joined the faculty of Columbia University Medical Center as a professor of neurology and psychiatry. At the same time, he was appointed Columbia University's first "Columbia University Artist" at the University's Morningside Heights campus, recognising the role of his work in bridging the arts and sciences.

In 1966 Sacks became a neurological consultant to various New York City nursing homes run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, and from 1966 to 1991 was a consulting neurologist at Bronx Psychiatric Center. Sacks returned to New York University School of Medicine in 2012, serving as both a professor of neurology and consulting neurologist in the centre's epilepsy centre.

Sacks' work at Beth Abraham helped provide the foundation on which the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function (IMNF) is built; Sacks was an honorary medical advisor. The Institute honoured Sacks in 2000 with its first Music Has Power Award. The IMNF again bestowed a Music Has Power Award on Sacks in 2006 to commemorate "his 40 years at Beth Abraham and honor his outstanding contributions in support of music therapy and the effect of music on the human brain and mind".

Sacks maintained a practice in New York City. He served on the boards of The Neurosciences Institute and the New York Botanical Garden.


Beginning in 1970, Sacks wrote of his experience with neurological patients. His books have been translated into over 25 languages. In addition to his books, Sacks was a regular contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, as well as other medical, scientific and general publications. He was awarded the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science in 2001.

Sacks' work was featured in a "broader range of media than those of any other contemporary medical author" and in 1990, The New York Times said he "has become a kind of poet laureate of contemporary medicine". His descriptions of people coping with and adapting to neurological conditions or injuries often illuminate the ways in which the normal brain deals with perception, memory and individuality.

Sacks considered his literary style to have grown out of the tradition of 19th-century "clinical anecdotes", a literary style that included detailed narrative case histories. He also counted among his inspirations the case histories of the Russian neuropsychologist A. R. Luria. After the publication of his first book, a review by W. H. Auden encouraged Sacks to adapt his writing style to "be metaphorical, be mythical, be whatever you need".

Sacks described his cases with a wealth of narrative detail, concentrating on the experiences of the patient (in the case of his A Leg to Stand On, the patient was himself). The patients he described were often able to adapt to their situation in different ways despite the fact that their neurological conditions were usually considered incurable. His most famous book, Awakenings, upon which the 1990 feature film of the same name is based, describes his experiences using the new drug levodopa on Beth Abraham post-encephalitic patients. Awakenings was also the subject of the first documentary made (in 1974) for the British television series Discovery.

In his other books, he describes cases of Tourette syndrome and various effects of Parkinson's disease. The title article of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is about a man with visual agnosia and was the subject of a 1986 opera by Michael Nyman. The title article of An Anthropologist on Mars, which won a Polk Award for magazine reporting, is about Temple Grandin, an autistic professor. Seeing Voices, Sacks' 1989 book, covers a variety of topics in Deaf studies.

In his book The Island of the Colorblind Sacks wrote about an island where many people have achromatopsia (total colourblindness, very low visual acuity and high photophobia), and describes the Chamorro people of Guam, who have a high incidence of a neurodegenerative disease known as Lytico-Bodig disease (a devastating combination of ALS, dementia and parkinsonism). Along with Paul Alan Cox, Sacks published papers suggesting a possible environmental cause for the cluster, namely the toxin beta-methylamino L-alanine (BMAA) from the cycad nut accumulating by biomagnification in the flying fox bat.

In November 2012, Sacks released his book Hallucinations. In this work Sacks takes a look into why ordinary people can sometimes experience hallucinations and removes the stigma placed behind the word. He explains, "Hallucinations don't belong wholly to the insane. Much more commonly, they are linked to sensory deprivation, intoxication, illness or injury." Sacks writes about the not so well known phenomenon called Charles Bonnet syndrome, which has been found to occur in elderly people who have lost their eyesight. The book has been described by Entertainment Weekly as, "Elegant... An absorbing plunge into a mystery of the mind."

Sacks sometimes faced criticism in the medical and disability studies communities. Arthur K. Shapiro for instance, an expert on Tourette syndrome, said Sacks' work was "idiosyncratic" and relied too much on anecdotal evidence in his writings. Researcher Makoto Yamaguchi thought Sacks' mathematical explanations, in his study of the numerically gifted savant twins (in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), are irrelevant. Although Sacks has been characterised as a "compassionate" writer and doctor, others have felt that he exploited his subjects. Sacks was called "the man who mistook his patients for a literary career" by British academic and disability rights activist Tom Shakespeare, and one critic called his work "a high-brow freak show". Sacks responded, "I would hope that a reading of what I write shows respect and appreciation, not any wish to expose or exhibit for the thrill ... but it's a delicate business."


In 1996, Sacks became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (Literature). He was named a Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1999. Also in 1999, he became an Honorary Fellow at The Queen's College, Oxford. In 2002 he became Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Class IV—Humanities and Arts, Section 4—Literature) and he was awarded the 2001 Lewis Thomas Prize by Rockefeller University. Sacks was also a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (FRCP).

Sacks was awarded honorary doctorates from the Georgetown University (1990), College of Staten Island (1991), Tufts University (1991), New York Medical College (1991), Medical College of Pennsylvania (1992), Bard College (1992), Queen's University (Ontario) (2001), Gallaudet University (2005), University of Oxford (2005), Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (2006) and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (2008).

Oxford University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree in June 2005.

Sacks received the position "Columbia Artist" from Columbia University in 2007, a post that was created specifically for him. In this capacity he gains unconstrained access to the University, regardless of department or discipline.

Sacks was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Queen's Birthday Honours.

The minor planet 84928 Oliversacks, discovered in 2003, was named in his honour.

In February 2010 Sacks was named as one of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's Honorary Board of distinguished achievers. He described himself as "an old Jewish atheist".

Personal Life

Sacks never married and lived alone for most of his life. He declined to share details from his personal life until late in his life. He addressed his homosexuality for the first time in his 2015 autobiography On the Move: A Life. During his early career he indulged in:
"staggering bouts of pharmacological experimentation, underwent a fierce regimen of bodybuilding at Muscle Beach (for a time he held a California record, after he performed a full squat with 600 pounds across his shoulders), and racked up more than 100,000 leather-clad miles on his motorcycle. And then one day he gave it all up—the drugs, the sex, the motorcycles, the bodybuilding."
Celibate for about 35 years, he began a relationship with writer and New York Times contributor Bill Hayes in 2008. He noted in a 2001 interview that severe shyness—which he described as "a disease"—had been a lifelong impediment to his personal interactions.

Sacks swam almost every day for decades, especially when he lived in the City Island section of the Bronx. He discussed his work and his personal health problems in a June 2011 BBC documentary Imagine. He wrote about a near-fatal accident he had at age 41, a year after the publication of Awakenings, when he fell and broke his leg while mountaineering alone.

Sacks waged a lifelong battle with prosopagnosia, known popularly as "face blindness", which he discussed at length in a 2010 New Yorker piece.

Illness and Death

Sacks underwent radiation therapy in 2006 for a uveal melanoma in his right eye. He discussed his loss of stereoscopic vision, caused by the treatment, in a 2010 article, then expanded on it in his book The Mind's Eye later that year.

In January 2015 metastases from the ocular tumour were discovered in his liver and brain. Sacks announced this development in a February New York Times op-ed piece and estimated his remaining time in "months". He expressed his intent to "live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can". He added: "I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight."

Sacks died from the disease on 30 August 2015 at his home in Manhattan at the age of 82.


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  • Migraine (1970) ISBN 978-0-375-70406-2
  • Awakenings (1973) ISBN 0-375-70405-1
  • A Leg to Stand On (1984) (Sacks' own experience, after an accident, of losing the awareness of one of his legs) ISBN 978-0-684-85395-6
  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985) ISBN 0-671-55471-9
  • Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf (1989) ISBN 0-520-06083-0
  • An Anthropologist on Mars (1995) ISBN 0-679-43785-1 (First ed.)
  • The Island of the Colorblind (1997) (total congenital color blindness in an island society, Guam disease) ISBN 978-0-676-97035-7
  • Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (2001) ISBN 0-375-40448-1
  • Oaxaca Journal (2002) ISBN 978-0-307-94744-4 (Travel literature about Sacks' ten-day trip to Oaxaca, Mexico in the year 2000.)
  • Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (2007) ISBN 978-1-4000-4081-0
  • The Mind's Eye (2010) ISBN 978-0-307-27208-9
  • Hallucinations (2012) ISBN 978-0-307-95724-5
  • On the Move: A Life (2015) (autobiography) ISBN 978-0-385-35254-3
  • NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (2015) (foreword) ISBN 978-1-583-33467-6

See the full article:
      Oliver Sacks From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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