Physical and mental issues always come along and become an obstacle in life that you must face. Many patients struggling with mental issues fail to overcome the obstruction to function as a normal human being. Many end up in convalescent hospitals or nursing homes, being sent away from their own lives. It is believed that there is no remedy for these mental illnesses, once it is caught up to you, there is no way to escape. Furthermore, the cost of therapy is also a significant factor in which such illnesses are so hard to be recovered from. However, under the guidance of Oliver Sacks, a well known scientist who is an expert in the field of neurology, many patients have found their way back to their old lives. It was through his strong convictions in believing there is still hope in these people did he successfully fought off the disorders.
Report from the University of Florida
So how does the society view these people with disabilities? Citing from the Paul Burtner College of Dentistry, University of Florida, the way people have viewed these disabled individuals has changed over time. “Prior to the twentieth century, social attitudes reflected the view that persons with disabilities were unhealthy, defective and deviant.” (Society’s Attitude Toward People with Disabilities.” Paul Burtner » College of Dentistry » University of Florida, paul-burtner.dental.ufl.edu/oral-health-care-for-persons-with-disabilities/societys-attitude-toward-people-with-disabilities/) It was not untill the the 1960s and the 1970s did legislatives and social changes occured that changed the society’s attitude. Families started to take care of these people in homes themselves, and the society were beginning to change the terminology they use to call them. For example, terms like “mentally retarded” were substituted with “disabled”. As the society bcame more civilized, individuality was more emphasized rather than the disability of the person. Mentally retarded people moved on from worrying about family embarassment to openly presenting themselves as disabled to the society. Stigma no longer stops a person from being honest with themselves, it no longer plays a part in mentally disabled individuals.
In the movie “Awakenings”, with Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro, character Doctor Malcolm Sayer was a figure of Oliver Sacks. The movie presented Dr.Sacks’ points of view and depicted his sympathetic disposition. He was caring and patient, and believed “that thesecatatonic patients people are alive inside”. Throughout the moive, Dr.Sayer never gave up on discovering new treatments for his patients, and he fought for all the obstacles to overcome them. His faith convinced the board of directors and touched his colleagues to support his rather “impossible plan” to wake all the cataonic people. These are people who have been asleep for decades, and his supervisor had opposed Doctor Sayer with the idea that “these poeple have no physical improvements in the past years to any treatments”. However, Dr.Sayer believed these people are still alive inside of them, he viewed these people differently from others. Comparing the characters from the movie, Dr.Sayer’s supervisor and Dr.Sayer had two completely different perspectives. Dr.Sayer believed new treaments can possibly improve the situation, but his supervisor believed there should not be any new intervention on their current treatments. Regardless of how difficult it was to have people support his ideas, he never gave up on wanting to resue them. Holding his faith in believing these patients are alive inside, all his hard work paid off in the end. His patients became conscious, and were able to communicate again. Although in the very end these people returned to their original state of being in coma, he still held his responsibility for bringing them back to life in the first place. Quoting from Dr.Sayer from the end of the movie, “we can hide behind the drugs and say that they failed or that the illness itself had returned, or that the patients were unable to cope losing decades of their lives. Reality is, we don’t know what went wrong any more than what went right. But what we do know is as the chemical windows closed another awakening took place.” Unlike other doctors, Dr.Sayer is moving on from his experiences. He is not afraid to fail, and is willing to learn from his mistakes. He takes failiure and turns it into a new starting point. Despite the fact that Doctor Sayer did not succeed in fully cure them, but his contributions are what is important. Before him, the society was focusing on only one way to keep these patients from staying alive physically, but not mentally. It was through Doctor Sayer (Oliver Sacks) did another possibility to save them emerged.
“The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”
In one of Oliver Sacks’ most famous case studies, “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”, the process in which Doctor Sacks examines a patient was presented. From the first time meeting the patient to the process of treating him, Doctor Sacks had a wide range of patience. He did not show any frustration towards the disabled, and did not show any impatience. Oliver Sacks’ way of dealing with his patients shows his sympathetic disposition. He does not get sick of them, and have the heart of curing them. This is what makes Oliver Sacks such a respectable doctor. His way of interacting with them serves as a role model to the society. People working around him was influenced by his actions. Families witnessing improvements on their loved ones came to realize that just as Oliver Sacks had mentioned before, these people might seem dead on the outside, but they are actually alive inside. They feel what we feel, but are just unable to express themselves.
Interview on TedTalk
In the show TedTalk in 2009, Oliver Sacks was invited to share his experience in the field of neurology therapy. He states, “As a physician, I have to try and define what’s going on and to reassure people. Especially to reassure them that they’re not going insane.” Oliver Sacks stands in a position where he is not only the doctor, but also a friend to the patient. He stands in their perspectives and reagards to their feelings. Many doctors’ ultimate objective is only to cure the patient, but to Oliver Sacks, it is more about understanding a new concept of how the human brain works. He understands how people under such illness would feel, and for him, his ultimate goal is to make his patients feel better, and at the same time learn about them. Oliver Sacks dives into the mind of his patients, and he understands exactly what they are going through. He said,” …no more than one percent of the people acknowledge them (the fact that they have mental issues). Because they are afraid they will be seen as insane, or something. And if they do mention them to their own doctors they may be misdiagnosed.” Many people are afraid to tell the truth especailly when it is related to their mental issues. They are often too scared to mention them because once they do, they might be alientated from the society. They would lose everything they have ever had and be sent to a phychiatric hospital. In the end of the speech, Oliver Sacks concludes, “I think I just want to recapitulate and say this is common(Charles Bonnet symptom)….” He believes it is normal to have mental problems, and he takes the idea of being mentally ill differently from others. “He…thinks they are infinitely interesting, and valuable, for giving one some insight as to how the brain works.” Different from the rest of the world, Oliver Sacks takes this phenomenon in a very optimistic attitude, whereas many others take it as if it is the end of the world.
Other people’s view on Oliver Sacks, Bill Hayes
Bill Hayes, partner of Oliver Sacks, once said, “heOliver Sacks was the most unusual person I had ever known”. (Hayes, Bill. “My Life with Oliver Sacks: ‘He Was the Most Unusual Person I Had Ever Known?” The Guardian, 21 Mar. 2018, www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/26/bill-hayes-insomniac-city-my-life-with-oliver-sacks-new-york.)
In Bill Hayes’ memoir, he recalled meeting Oliver Sacks for the first time and how they became more aquainted with each other. He described Oliver Sacks as someone who is very “alienated” from the modern world back then. “…rarely watched anything on TV but the news, did not enjoy contemporary fiction, and had zero interest in celebrities or fame (including his own). He didn’t possess a computer, had never used email or texted; he wrote with a fountain pen. This wasn’t pretentiousness; he wasn’t proud of it…(“Hayes, Bill. “My Life with Oliver Sacks: ‘He Was the Most Unusual Person I Had Ever Known?” The Guardian, 21 Mar. 2018, www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/26/bill-hayes-insomniac-city-my-life-with-oliver-sacks-new-york.) Oliver Sacks is viewed as a very modest person, one who does what he does merely for the sake of his own good. He is not working that hard for the possession of fame or fortune; his goal is only to bring life to those who needs it. Bill Hayes mentioned, “Oliver Sacks such a monk-like existence – devoted solely to work, reading, writing, thinking – seemed at once awe-inspiring and inconceivable.” (Hayes, Bill. “My Life with Oliver Sacks: ‘He Was the Most Unusual Person I Had Ever Known?” The Guardian, 21 Mar. 2018, www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/26/bill-hayes-insomniac-city-my-life-with-oliver-sacks-new-york.) Doctor Sacks is extremely devouted in his work that he essentially repeats his life routine everyday.
Oliver Sacks’ understanding on mentally disabled individuals changed many people’s thoughts towards them. It gave prospects to families that are going through accepting their family member as being mentally disabled, and it helped many to comprehend this illness.He redefined the term “Mentally retarded” into something that the society has been viewing the wrong way. He claims to the world that “…this sort of thing needs to be brought into notice, for patients, for doctors, for the public.” Furthermore, he opened up a world where people can comfortably discuss neurological conditions and how individuals should learn to adapt them without feeling humiliated.