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Does the treatment of schizophrenics alter onset of schizophrenia?


My brother's life with schizophrenia and treatment for it
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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In retrospect, it’s said sometimes that people will suddenly... that schizophrenia may present rather suddenly in someone who has been almost ostentatiously normal – friendly, gregarious, open, and then... and then they change.

Others, like Michael, have been dreamy, and perhaps a little withdrawn, and the term schizoid is used from the start. Though... though Michael was very widely read, an aunt of mine left her entire library to Michael, and to leave one’s entire library to a 15-year-old, you know, implies how... how deeply she thought of him. Michael had… went through… had a lifetime of all the medical treatments. In the 1940s, there was an insulin coma, hideous thing, you are rendered unconscious. I’m not sure that this is too good for the brain. When tranquilisers came out, thorazine, or it was called largactil in England, Michael was started on this in the early '50s, he spent a life on these things, in and out of mental hospitals, although at the same time able to hold a job, a modest job. He was a messenger and would take messages and parcels from one firm to another, although I think the very word, messenger, somehow became for him, to use the title of Galileo’s book, ‘the celestial messenger’.

Michael, as a teenager, he felt that he was the Messiah, and there were very grandiose feelings, but he also felt that he was a… always felt that he was a doomed man, and the darling of a flagellomaniac god. This was a phrase he used. Sometimes he said, 'a sadistic providence'. I think these phrases had something to do with a sadistic headmaster in Brafield who had beaten us both; the sadistic, and indeed, flagellomaniac headmaster. Michael was deeply, deeply masochistic, but he was absolutely reliable when he worked, and he had a prodigious memory, much more than mine. I think he knew Gibbons’ Decline and Fall by heart. He knew Oliver Twist by heart. Sometimes I think a single reading would... would suffice for him. But, he never had a home of his own, he never acquired social skills, he never really had much contact beyond the narrow circle of family and work, and he died about five years ago. But especially I think, since his death, I mean, I think he had a miserable, impoverished life, although whether one human being should ever say that of another, I don’t know. Who knows what rich compensations there might have been in fantasy, though I am inclined to think that feeling you’re the Messiah or feeling you’re God, and these grandiose compensations, are... are just the clothing of despair.

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: Brafield, Michael Sacks

Duration: 3 minutes, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012