Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks passing away at 82

A great writer inspires generations to come, even long after he’s gone. Oliver Sacks was an exemplary author and professor of neurology at the New York University School of Medicine. He wrote several books on his encounters with very interesting neurological cases and how those cases changed the lives of the patients. His works were not just interesting from a neurological perspective, they were also very deep narrative intertwined with the lives of the patients going through those disorders. The chaos, the eventual acceptance and finally the tranquility - Oliver captured it all in his writing.

I first heard of Oliver Sack’s name in the syllabus for an online class I was taking. I was recovering from a surgery while taking Dr. Park’s class on Ways of Thinking when I read An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales. It is a fascinating book, I was drawn in by his writing almost immediately. Probably one of the best books I’ve that explained very serious neurological disorders in an accessible manner and also fun to read. It is almost ironic, I had just finished reading the book when Oliver Sacks announced in NY Times that he has terminal cancer. I was shocked, I had just read about this guy. He titled this piece My Own Life, being inspired by David Hume:

I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.”

His finished his autobiography before his death and the last leg of his journey from his announcement must have been very therapeutic and cathartic. This can be seen in another piece he wrote about the value of Sabbath, not necessarily in a religious context, but the Sabbath as a culture construct - And for him, the Sabbath of his life:

And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.

Oliver truly provided companionship, passionate care and a ray of hope for all the patients who came in contact with him - If not physiologically, at least in ways that could help them peacefully live their own lives.

“In examining disease, we gain wisdom about anatomy and physiology and biology. In examining the person with disease, we gain wisdom about life.” — Oliver Sacks

Articles referenced:

  1. My own Life
  2. My periodic table
  3. Sabbath