Saturday, September 5, 2015

Oliver Sacks and Me

"You can't see me, but I know you can feel me, because I'm right here."
Oliver Sacks blew open my mind.  He taught me that people don't see the world the same way I do. They don't taste things the same way, they don't feel things the same way, or even remember things the same way.  He showed me people navigate life in all kinds of unique ways.  Why were his scientific, non-fiction books so enthralling?  It's because his stories were honest reflections and observations about people.  He didn't refer to people as mental or retarded or diseased. We're all just people.  Our brains have different ways of seeing and being in the world. These individual stories gave me a better understanding of the human existence.  Through his observations and stories he excited, fascinated and encouraged me to explore my own vision of reality through my art, feelings and relationships.

What I didn't know when I first read his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat two decades ago is that his words would give me the patience and empathy I would need today, as my Mother continues to delve into the depths of Alzheimer's Disease.   My reality become skewed as the natural  time line from daughter to mother and grandmother began to wobble  The tables turned and I had to care for my Mom as she went backwards mentally and began seeing the world through a completely different lens and time zone than me.  It has been an arduous road fought hard with love, but sometimes despair in the lack of understanding.  Over the past 12 years I have gone back to Oliver Sacks' words for comfort, insight and strength.  He knew disease didn't define the person and that understanding was as important as a cure.  Although this quote is not his, he experienced the value of its insight and believed it was important to share, just like the stories he shared about the people he studied.

The animating theme of Sacks’s work is the importance of individuality in medicine. He quoted Sir William Osler with approval – “Ask not what disease the person has, but rather what person the disease has” – and wrote in Awakenings: “There is nothing alive which is not individual: our health is ours; our diseases are ours; our reactions are ours – no less than our minds or our faces.”

Oliver Sacks Obituary