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'The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat': A strange assemblage of pieces


The man who 'regained' his lost sense of smell
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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The very last piece... the last piece I wrote, which was very early in ’85, I... I wrote in a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco. It was the piece about the man who had lost his sense of smell following a head injury, but then after six months thought he was smelling... thought it was coming back. He seemed to smell his morning coffee and... and his aromatic tobacco, and he was checked up and there was in fact no return of smell and he seemed somehow, imagination seemed to be filling in what perception could no longer do. And also I... I wrote deceitfully about the young man, a medical student who, following habitual heavy dosages of amphetamines, entered a strange state in which he had an enhancement of a sense of smell, could identify individuals and places easily, and... and was so overwhelmed by the sense of smell that he almost imagined he had turned into a dog, although other things were also enhanced. Needless to say I was speaking of myself and of a strange period in my own life which had happened during amphetamine taking. I feel happy to... to acknowledge this now, although at the time I felt it would not be the right thing to do. I’m prepared to acknowledge a lot of things now, which I wasn’t prepared to 25 years ago.

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: San Francisco

Duration: 1 minute, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012