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The final writing of Migraine


Arnold Friedman's strange turn
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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So, Arnold Friedman, I suppose then was a man of about 60, I was just 33. Friedman thought I was bright and I think he wanted me to be a, sort of, protégé. He was friendly towards to me, he secretly arranged for me to do more clinics than everyone else and... and to be paid slightly more and, he introduced me to his daughter. I even... even wondered whether he thought of me as a potential son-in-law. And... and then there came a strange episode. I would meet him on Saturday mornings and tell him about interesting patients I’d seen in the week, and one Saturday I told him about a patient who, instead of having a headache after the zigzag, had awful abdominal pain and vomiting. And I said I wondered whether one should exhume the old Victorian term of abdominal migraine. I said, I’d seen a couple of other patients with this and suddenly, Friedman became a different man. He turned scarlet and he shouted and he said, 'What do you mean? Talking about an abdominal migraine. The word migraine comes from hemi-crania. It means a headache. You are working at the headache clinic. I will not have you talk about migraines without a headache!'

So, I... I sort of, drew back amazed; this is one of the reasons why the opening sentence in my Migraine book is: Headache is never the sole symptom of a migraine. And why the second chapter is entirely devoted to forms of migraine without a headache. But... but that was a small explosion. The bigger explosion came in the summer of '67. I would always go back to England in the summers and then, to my own great surprise, I... I wrote a book on migraine. And I sent a telegram to Friedman saying that somehow or other a book had just gushed out, that I’d taken it to a publisher who was interested and I hoped he might... Friedman might like it and might write a foreword. He... he sent back a telegram saying, hold everything for the moment.

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: Arnold Friedman, Migraine

Duration: 2 minutes, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012