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Competitive weightlifting


An embarrassment to UCLA
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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When I was a resident at UCLA I... I think I was considered as... as an embarrassment to the department, but also an ornament. I was an embarrassment because... because of various episodes, one of these was with a patient, a woman who had a particularly malignant form of multiple sclerosis, called neuromyelitis optica, and she was really paralysed from the neck down and blind, though completely intact intellectually and otherwise. And when she heard that I lived in Topanga Canyon and had a motorbike she said she’d love to come for a ride with me. And I thought on this, and one Sunday, along with three or four buddies from Muscle Beach Gym – I had a lot to do with them – we... we sort of abducted her and she was lashed onto me and I took her for a ride up Topanga Canyon and down. I thought I was going to be summarily expelled from... from my residency, but it was decided that... well, but they kept me.

I think one reason they kept me was they thought that I probably was a good person with good intentions, even if I was a bit crazy, and... and risked lives. I think the other reason was that whenever I’d done anything bad I wrote a paper, which was accepted for publication. And since I was the only resident who wrote papers I... I, in fact, partly... it was partly me which kept the department in the... in the neurological eye.

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: Topanga Canyon, Muscle Beach Gym

Duration: 2 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012