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My first real interactions with patients


Announcing myself to the world of neurology
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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I’ve mentioned my interest in photography in my UCLA days as well as in case histories and both of these came together when I arranged an exhibit at the… which was shown at the American Academy of Neurology. It was on a rather exotic subject, it was called the Axonal Dystrophies but this was a general term. It applied to some patients I’d seen. It also applied to the effects of vitamin E deficiency in rabbits and also to the toxic effects of some chemicals when they were given to mice and the mice would jerk and spin around. I... but also my exhibit on the Axonal Dystrophies which cost me many delightful hours in the darkroom as well as having a little bit to do with... with our... our vitamin-starved rabbits and our toxic mice. This was a hit, as I thought it would be. Really it was a, sort of, advertisement, it was a way of saying to the neurologists of North America: hey, this is me! I’m… and I got two job offers from New York, among other... among many others. At that point, although in many ways I enjoyed life in California, it… I didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I thought it was idyllic in some ways, but also rather regressive. In relation to drugs which I was then heavily into, but perhaps in relation to the easy, sleazy life of Muscle Beach. And that I needed to go to a hard, real place and a place where the action was and, perhaps, find myself as a... as a creative person, or whatever. And, so I accepted one of the offers and I came to New York.

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: UCLA

Duration: 2 minutes, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012