Consciousness and brain function have been examined through
lens of many disciplines, including philosophy, biology, psychology, and
One of the most insightful approaches, however, was that of neurologist Oliver Sacks, who crafted artistic case histories of neurologically damaged persons that illuminated the existential as well as pathological condition of the patient.
An empathetic, humane approach to treating persons afflicted with some of the most macabre neurological conditions known was the hallmark of Sacks's writings. In his sixth book, An Anthropologist on Mars (1995)[Un antropologo su Marte], Sacks continued to relate the stories of his patients, as he had done in such earlier works as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1986)[L'uomo che scambiò sua moglie per un cappello].
That patients must be listened to and the accounts of their illnesses
respected was one of Sacks' most ardently held tenets.
His own experience as a patient only strengthened that concern.
Having injured a leg in a mountaineering accident, Sacks learned firsthand how a physician's dismissal of a patient's condition could hinder recuperation, a saga he recounted in A Leg to Stand On (1984)[Su una gamba sola].
Sacks was born July 9, 1933, in London. His choice of careers
not surprising, given that both his parents were general practitioners
trained as neurologists.
His three older brothers also pursued medical careers.
Sacks received a B.A. in physiology from Queen's College, Oxford, in 1954 and continued at the college for several other degrees.
On completing his M.D. in 1960 at Middlesex Hospital, Sacks left England for the U.S. to study neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
While in California he won a state championship in weight lifting and rode briefly with the motorcycle group Hell's Angels.
In 1965 Sacks left the West Coast to become an instructor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx borough of New York City, where he remained, eventually becoming clinical professor of neurology.
A year later he also joined Beth Abraham Hospital, a charity institution in the Bronx, as a staff neurologist.
There he met a group of patients who had contracted a sleeping sickness, encephalitis lethargica, during an epidemic that broke out between 1917 and 1927.
The patients had survived only to develop a type of parkinsonism that caused varying degrees of immobility, speechlessness, and depression. Sacks recounted the brief cure that the patients experienced after receiving the drug L-dopa and the drug's subsequent side effects in his 1973 book Awakenings [Risvegli], which was made into a motion picture in 1990.
Sacks was a somewhat shy, self-effacing man who lived alone
red house in the Bronx.
He was an avid swimmer and had a passion for ferns and invertebrate animals.
A self-proclaimed eccentric, Sacks believed that his unconventional nature helped him to identify with his patients, whose symptoms placed them outside the norm as well.
(MARY JANE FRIEDRICH)
"Year in Review 1995. Biography" - Encyclopoedia Britannica On Line