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The old Devonian sandstone house I was born in

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My paradoxical mother
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Many years ago, I took a manuscript of my first book to an editor at Faber & Faber. I said, 'Nice to meet you,' and she said, 'We’ve met before'. And I said, 'I don’t remember it'. And she said, 'No, you wouldn’t. It was like this’, she said, 'I was training to be a nurse, and your mother was one of our lecturers at the Royal Free Hospital, and she was giving a talk on breastfeeding. And after a while she said, ‘There’s nothing difficult or embarrassing about breastfeeding’ and she bent down, picked up a baby, which had been concealed, and fed it in front of the class'. She said, 'This was in September of 1933, and you were the baby'. I was amazed at the story, because my mother was a very shy woman, pathologically shy, but she could be quite a ham in performance, and it’s similar with me.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Royal Free Hospital

Duration: 1 minute, 15 seconds

Date story recorded: 19-23 September, 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012