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My unpublished travel writing


My missing book on myoclonus
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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In my first year at UCLA I saw a patient with a... with a thing called myoclonus, it’s sudden muscular spasms, which, in her case, were brought on by flickering lights, and had been in her family for five generations. But this incited me to write a book, a little book on myoclonus. Oh, this is a... oh, I don't know... well, a dull story. The... at that time in the States the expert on myoclonus was a neurologist called Luttrell, and he, in fact, came to UCLA as an invigilator, or examiner, in the boards of neurology. And I wasn’t doing the boards, but I went up to him shyly and said that I had liked his... I loved his papers on myoclonus and I’d... I'd written a little book on it myself, and... and I’d very much appreciate his advice.

And I gave him the manuscript, of which there was no copy, and I didn’t get an answer. And then when I enquired about six weeks later, I heard that Luttrell was dead and, in fact, that he had committed suicide, and, I think, I may have partly felt that perhaps my... my little book had driven him to suicide. But I also felt that I should perhaps write a letter of condolence, but not mention anything so vulgar as the returning of the manuscript, and so... so my 1962 book on myoclonus may still exist somewhere.

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: CN Luttrell

Duration: 2 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012