I’m at the movies watching Robert de Niro trying to stop trembling. He can’t. His condition worsens at an amazing speed. After having been asleep for forty years he recovers consciousness only to experience a return to a world of darkness. Robin Williams is the doctor who witnesses the ups and downs of these patients he has awakened with an experimental drug after having been in coma for decades.
The movie is called “Awakenings”. It is based on a book written by Doctor Oliver Sacks, where he describes his experiences with chronic patients at a hospital in New York during the sixties’, and the amazing results achieved thanks to treatment with experimental drugs on patients victims of the encephalitis lethargica epidemic of the ‘20s.
Doctor Oliver Sacks is a strange doctor-cum-writer case in his two-fold condition as scientist and poet. As a physician he does research and explores the different ways that individuals have of surviving and adjusting to different diseases and neurological conditions; then, as a writer he shares with us his findings and insights about these experiences with the brain and the human mind.
In another famous book of his called “The man who mistook his wife for a hat”, Sacks describes patients struggling to live with dignity while suffering the Tourette syndrome (a disorder that causes involuntary movements and sounds), or the Phantom Member Syndrome (perceiving sensations that an amputated member is still connected to the body and functions in line with it).
In his most recent book, “Musicophilia”, Sacks focuses on people who suffer from strange musical disorders that affect their personal and professional lives. From a professional composer who starts having children’s songs interminably playing in his mind to another composer who links specific colors whenever he hears different musical tones. In his tour around these strange syndromes Doctor Sacks not only illuminates the elusive magic of music but also leads us once more into another dark corner of the human mind.
I’m still at the movies, Robert De Niro’s tremors worsen and I can’t take it any longer. Totally shaken, I escape this darkness and walk a few blocks looking for my car. I can’t find it, I don’t know if it’s on account of the dark or because I don’t know the neighborhood very well, the fact is I can’t remember where I parked it. I wander along these streets in a state of increasing anxiety, almost like a miniature version of the mental disorders that Sacks describes in his books: the struggle and despair of those neurological patients who, no matter how hard they try, are unable to find in their heads the vehicle that will take them back home.
Oliver Sacks was born on July 9 1933, in London. He’s a Neurologist. He graduated from Queen's College at Oxford and obtained his Doctor’s degree in Neurology at the University of California. He lives in New York since 1965. Currently he is Clinical Professor of Neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, associate professor of Neurology at the School of Medicine of the University of New York and consultant neurologist to the Little Sisters of the Poor. He practices Neurology in New York City.
1970 - «Migraine».
1974 - «Awakenings».
1984 - «A Leg to Stand On» (Sacks’ experience when he lost control of a leg due to an accident).
1985 - «The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat».
1989 - «Seeing Voices: A Journey Into The Land of the Deaf».
1995 - «An Anthropologist on Mars».
1997 - «The Island of the Color-blind (total congenital color blindness in an island society».
2001 - «Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood».
2002 - «Oaxaca Journal».
2007 – Musicophilia, tales of music and the brain
Links of interest
Official website: www.oliversacks.com
Short video linked to the patients of “Awakenings” http://fogonazos.blogspot.com/2007/06/despertares-una-historia-real.html#