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The death of medical case histories


Why it took me nine years to write A Leg to Stand On
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Why did I take nine years to write A Leg to Stand On when I had written Migraine in all of nine days? It was not for want of trying, and when I couldn’t write, I engaged a secretary and I tried to dictate the book. It kept going wrong and I... the term didn’t exist at the time, but I think I had something of a post-traumatic stress syndrome, and whenever I thought of the subject, I would get very anxious, and the writing would become strained and... and wrong. But there were other things going on. A very unfortunate series of events happened with a Tourette patient, and the Tourette book which I had wanted to write. And... and on the positive side, I... I wrote about Witty Ticcy Ray, and this, which was published in the London Review of Books, and this for me became a different sort of writing.

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: A Leg to Stand On, London Review of Books, Witty Ticcy Ray

Duration: 1 minute, 36 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012