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What brought my mother to medicine?


My mother's influence on my storytelling style
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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My mother’s storytelling... she was... she couldn’t contain herself, she was an incontinent storyteller and I would see her sometimes talking to the... the gardener or to the milkman. The milkman would come around and... in his cart and deliver milk, but he would be detained. My mother would capture him like the Ancient Mariner, and she’d bewitch him with stories, stories which would start with a surgical operation or... or cancer, a medical condition of some sort, but then spread out to a, sort of, biography. I think my own storytelling life has been very much influenced by my parents, especially by my mother’s storytelling.

When I was writing a lot of the case histories of Awakenings in 1972, I’d... I'd rented a little apartment near Hampstead Heath. I stayed the whole summer. My parents had their golden wedding that summer and... but in the evening I would come down with manuscripts and I would read to my mother, and she’d often shake her head and say, 'That’s not right', you know, or, 'You’ve got it there'. She heard many of the tales for Awakenings aurally. I find myself a bit choked up, because she died that year.

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: Awakenings, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Hampstead Heath

Duration: 1 minute, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: 19-23 September, 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012