Today is the birthday of neurologist and prolific writer Oliver Sacks (1933-2015). Born in London, he practiced in New York and spent his career studying the relationship between body and soul, the mysteries of the brain and "wholeness of life," what he called "neuroanthropology."
His deeply-moving autobiography, Awakenings (1973), made into an 1990 movie with Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, chronicled Dr. Sacks's treatment of the drug L-Dopa, a precursor of the transmitter dopamine, to temporarily awaken zombie-like patients after 40 or 50 years of "sleeping."
"No 'orthodox' presentation, in terms of numbers, series, grading of effects, et cetera, could have conveyed the historical reality of the experience," he said.
He wrote about his patients with love and attention. Giving hope. Even if only temporarily. “I love to discover potential in people who aren’t thought to have any," Sacks said.
Dr. Sacks challenged his peers to look past a patient's mental disorders to see the humanity. Giving voice to his patients's experiences, he explored what it was like to be unable to communicate with the rest of the world.
Sacks said, "I had always liked to see myself as a naturalist or explorer."
Called “the poet laureate of medicine” by The New York Times, Sacks celebrated the strength of the human spirit and how we can, with love and care, emerge despite disability or breakdown.
"People will make a life in their own terms, whether they are deaf or colorblind or autistic or whatever." Sacks said in 1998. "And their world will be quite as rich and interesting and full as our world."
With millions of copies of his books sold, he received thousands of letters each year. “I invariably reply to people under 10, over 90 or in prison,” he once said.
Look at life with love and see what emerges.