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The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat on the radio


Learning to be a concise writer
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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I did in fact do a little writing when I was in hospital. The British Medical Journal used to have a little column called Clinical Curios where instead of an elaborate case history, one would describe a patient briefly. These were rather similar to sort of the way doctors talk among one another: there's this lady came to me and so forth, and I'd sent them some clinical curios, but they said they were too long and could I be briefer. So when I was in hospital... I'm very strongly right-handed... I wrote them very painfully and slowly, much shorter things with my left hand, and... which they accepted. They said I was... they were amazed I could rein in my loquacity so well and go from 5000 words to 50 words or whatever it was, and I... I explained about the accident and that I didn't have the use of my right arm, and they said they were very sorry but it did wonders for my style.

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: British Medical Journal, Clinical Curios

Duration: 1 minute, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012