Dr. Oliver Sacks was an eminent British neurologist and author. He was highly regarded for being aware of the “ultimate responsibility of medicine” – to serve the human subject. Sacks was the author of many best-selling books, which were adapted into innumerable forms of popular culture through movies, television series, musicals etc. He explained mysteries of the brain through detailed narratives of case studies and experiences with patients, including their life stories of dealing with their unique conditions.
Through these stories, Sacks brought forth the importance of the “human” – an aspect so easily lost in the psychiatric process of medicines, check-ups, diagnoses and medical jargon.
Oliver Sacks’ groundbreaking book – The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales comprises 24 essays following unique case histories of his patients. These essays cover distinctive perceptual and intellectual aberrations of patients dealing with lost memories, violent behavioural reflexes, physical anomalies and uncanny and mind-boggling talents. The book is divided into four sections – Losses, Excesses, Transports and The World of the Simple.
Within these, the individual essays include a mariner who has lost the ability to make fresh memories and can remember nothing of his life since World War II, a medical student dealing with the heavy influence of substances and waking up to having an incredible sense of smell, a case of twin brothers who could not read or write but played a game of finding large prime numbers, a woman who lost a sense of the position of parts of her body.
Dr. Sacks was a sympathetic, remarkable and deeply human storyteller. He addressed brain functions, phenomenological manifestations, altered perceptions and extraordinary capabilities of the mind in people labeled as “mentally handicapped”.
However, in each story he highlights how these “mentally handicapped” people are no different from us.
The only difference is that their conditions are a slightly exaggerated form of our mannerisms and daily life difficulties.
Dr. Sacks passed away on the 30th of August, 2015 at the age of 82.
He leaves the legacy of a movement of seeing those with mental health difficulties as human, individual and without categories.
As Emily Willingham writes, “You owe Sacks a debt of gratitude for his willingness to take time with people who were different, whose minds sometimes seemed out of reach, and his ability to make it possible for the rest of us to understand better. If you don’t need that understanding now, you will someday – for you or for a loved one.”