Awakenings by Oliver Sacks

Sunday, June 29, 2008

I have never been very interested in science and more specifically medicine and have read few books on the subject. It is my impression that disease and medicine are fields that people seek knowledge about when they personally become effected by the subject matter. Fortunately, I have not been confronted with such at this point in my life. On a friends recommendation, I read Dr. Sacks' book. It is excellent.

Dr Sack's spent seven years working with patients effected with severe cases of Parkinson's disease. Over this time period he was responsible for administering the "miracle drug" LDOPA to the patients. He kept a journal on how each of these patients reacted to drug. The responses were incredible. Parkinson's is a terrible disease that left many of those affected in this book without the possibility to move or speak. Many were considered "living dead" for how severe they were afflicted. LDOPA immediately increased levels of mobility and speech. However, this is just one part of it and the amazing aspects of its effects are best left for the reader to discover. One interesting aspect was that LDOPA has a coming down phase I can only imagine is very similar to what illicit drug-users would experience as well.

The story of LDOPA is told through the individual journal entries of each of the patients. Yet this is only one component which makes this book so impressive. Sacks' writing style is exceptional when compared to any writer - even more so the case when recognizing that he is a medical doctor by trade. His ability to examine modern Western medicine as a whole adds an additional level of intrigue as does the way he intertwines the subject with philosophy.

His biggest concern with the direction we are taking in modern medicine is how doctors approach diagnosing a disease. What is lacking is a holistic approach in the process. Doctors must recognize that past experiences contributed in some way to the development of the disease. These experiances go back way before the patients "first symptom". A disease cannot be boxed and packaged and is never the same because we, as people, are not the same. The true answer to the cure may be in understanding the person before checking boxes to determine what type of disease they have. Sacks recognizes the important role Freud played in his psychoanalytical study of human nature. Past history, be it a result of genetics or events, both have their effects on the present. This point, as well as the reference to Freud, lead nicely into the next review on Karl Popper.


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