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Stephen Jay Gould's ominous article


Stephen Jay Gould's brush with death
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Stephen had a brush with death when he was 40 or so, he got a very rare malignant tumour called a mesothelioma, and this, almost certainly, because he had had contact with asbestos in the old buildings at Harvard. Ninety-nine per cent or more than 90% of people with mesothelioma don’t make it. Stephen was determined to make it and... and he felt he would be one of the lucky ones, and he was one of the lucky ones, aided by very heavy radiation and chemotherapy.  But he... he had a... he’d had a very strong personal experience of deep illness and facing death, and I think that when he came out at the other side, this... he’d always been energetic, I think that it energised him even more. There was not a minute to waste, who knew what might happen next?  I think, maybe, his heightened creative sense of contingency may have been partly inspired by the mesothelioma.

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: Stephen Jay Gould

Duration: 1 minute, 34 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012