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The therapeutic effects of swimming


My lifelong interest in swimming
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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I’ve had one interest... I’m reminded of this, which I’ve, I think, certainly had all my life, and which my brothers had all their lives, and this was because our father was a swimmer, and we were all thrown into the water when we were babies, when swimming is instinctive. So I have never known what it is like not to swim or not to be able to swim; one has to learn to toddle and walk, but swimming is instinctive.

One of my fond memories of my father was in '38, when I was five and we were at Felpham, and I ran into my parents’ bedroom one morning and pulled at the great whale-like bulk of my father and said, 'Come on, dad, let’s go for a swim.' And he looked at his watch and he said, 'What do you mean, waking an old man of 44 at six in the morning?' And now I’m 78, I don’t know whether to sort of laugh or cry at the memory. But my best times with my father were going on house calls with him, and swimming. And swimming has continued to be a central interest of mine. And when I walked in this morning I had my swim-bag with me, and I’m going to go for a swim now.

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: Felpham

Duration: 1 minute, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012