We pay tribute to neurologist and author Dr. Oliver Sacks through words from our board members as well as some of his own words.
Dubbed the “Poet Laureate of Medicine” by The New York Times, Dr. Oliver Sacks touched our lives through his work as a neurologist, author, and professor. His well-loved writing, whether concerning his patients, personal stories, or one of his many passions, revealed a compassionate, insightful, intelligent man. The world of neurology will not be the same without him. The following slides pay tribute to Dr. Sacks through words from our board members as well as some of his own words.Oliver W. Sacks, MD was born on July 9, 1933 in London. Following in the footsteps of both parents, who were doctors, Dr. Sacks received his medical degree from Queen’s College, Oxford. He then relocated to the United States to complete an internship at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco, then his residency at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1965, Dr. Sacks moved to New York for a fellowship at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. A year later he began his clinical work at Beth Abraham, which led to his book “Awakenings.”His best-selling collections of neurological case studies are enjoyed by a wide popular audience and have inspired movies, such as the Oscar-nominated “Awakenings,” plays, and even an opera. From 2007 to 2012, he served as a professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, and was named the university’s first Columbia University Artist. Dr. Sacks has won many awards, including the Lewis Thomas Prize by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He is an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In addition, Dr. Sacks wrote several books of memoirs and appeared frequently in the New Yorker and New York Review of Books. Before he died from cancer at his home in Manhattan on August 30, 2015, Dr. Sacks published a piece in the New York Times called “Sabbath,” in which he wrote, “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.”
When I was just starting out in neurology, Oliver Sacks inspired me to think of neurology and its esoteric diseases in real human terms. He helped me see the person as I experienced the excitement of understanding and identifying neurological disease.- Francisco J. Gomez, MD, Albany, NY
The thousand and one questions I asked as a child were seldom met by impatient or peremptory answers, but careful ones which enthralled me (though they were often above my head). I was encouraged from the start to interrogate, to investigate.- Oliver Sacks, from Uncle Tungsten
I had always liked to see myself as a naturalist or explorer. I had explored many strange, neuropsychological lands - the furthest Arctics and Tropics of neurological disorder.- Oliver Sacks, from A Leg to Stand On
One must drop all presuppositions and dogmas and rules - for there only lead to stalemate or disaster; one must cease to regard all patients as replicas, and honor each one with individual reactions and propensities; and, in this way, with the patient as one's equal, one's co-explorer, not one's puppet, one may find therapeutic ways which are better than other ways, tactics which can be modified as occasion requires. - Oliver Sacks, from Awakenings
I would like it to be thought that I had listened carefully to what patients and others have told me, that I’ve tried to imagine what it was like for them, and that I tried to convey this. And to use a biblical term, the feeling, ‘he bore witness.’- Oliver Sacks on how he would like to be remembered in 100 years. Interview with Joanna Simon, “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” 1989