a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Arriving in Guam: Are the cycads responsible for Lytico-bodig disease?


The offer of a remote neurological adventure
Oliver Sacks Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

An even more remote neurological adventure was suggested to me in... I think it was the start of '92 or was it '93? Kate, you handed me the phone and you said, 'It’s John Steele from Guam'. 'Guam?' I’d never had a phone call from Guam. I didn’t know where the... where it was. I had known… I’d had a little correspondence with a John Steele 20 years earlier. John Steele... that John Steele was a... a physician in Toronto who had co-authored a fascinating article on migraine hallucinations in children, really a beautiful, illustrated paper. Anyhow, I lifted up the phone and it turned out to be the same John Steele. He told me how he had since made his life in Micronesia, first in some of the Caroline Islands and now in Guam. Why was he phoning me? He said there was an extraordinary disease endemic among the native people, the Chamorros in Guam. And many of them had symptoms, extremely similar to what I had described and which had been visually documented in my Awakenings patients. And would I… and there were very few people now who had seen these post-encephalitic patients, and could I, with that background, come and cast a… come to Guam, go on rounds with him, meet some of these people and... and I immediately said yes.  I’d like to say I took the next plane to Guam, but there was probably a little while preparing to go.

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: Guam, Toronto, Micronesia, Caroline Islands, Awakenings, Island of the Colour-blind, John Steele

Duration: 2 minutes, 18 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012