Neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks adds The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat: and Other Clinical Tales to his already impressive list of works, which includes bestsellers Awakenings and Musicophilia. Although the included case histories are intriguing, they are not what make the book so astounding. Rather, it is the way in which Sacks tells the patients’ stories, an approach which skillfully weaves into the case histories messages about the overcoming of obstacles and the relentless pursuit of an optimal ending. Many of his stories tell of patients who have been greatly troubled by their neurological disorders, but have persevered in overcoming them, staying committed to their recovery and treatment no matter how impossible it seemed that they would get better.
The title of the book in itself is thought-provoking and interests prospective readers. However, it does not accurately represent the true nature of the cases. The book’s name diminishes the extraordinary nature of these patients’ disorders by making it seem as though their conditions are almost comical. In reality Sacks tells many stories of patients who have utilized their condition to enhance their lives, or whose condition has strengthened one of their mental skills, such as in music or writing. Patients of this kind are best represented by Rebecca, the patient of focus in Chapter 21, who has myopia, a partial cleft palate, and other cerebral effects. Sacks tells of why she had been called a “moron” or a “fool” throughout her life, but mainly focuses on her moving “poetic power” (Sacks 179). This ability was what was most stunning to Sacks and his readers, as Rebecca’s physical capabilities were far below the average person, but her mind far more literate.
Sacks’ style, though it can be long-winded and at times confusing, can also be poetic and entrancing. The way he tells the stories of these patients draws his audience into his world of interaction with each subject. Each chapter leaves the reader feeling as though they have met, observed, and interacted with the patient just as Dr. Sacks did. The way in which Sacks describes his cases allows the reader to fully understand each condition’s anomalies. For instance, he writes of a Tourette’s patient whose tics were different than those of the average “Touretter”. He describes her tics as being a “caricature” of the people she passed. He further develops the image of this woman, describing her actions as being “frenetic” and her imitations to be “kaleidoscopic” (Sacks 122). Sacks depicts his patients in such a way that their stories are far more moving than they would be with only a medical term assigned to their conditions. The image Sacks creates allows his readers to understand and connect to the patient of discussion, rather than study them as a doctor would.
Readers can, and should, purchase The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. The $15.99 spent on the book will be well worth it, as the lessons it teaches and the knowledge it provides are invaluable. The stories in this Touchstone publication, each as compelling as the next, are full of vivid descriptions, moving stories, and lessons that are life-changing.
Sacks’ novel has taught me many things about the world of neurology. I have learned how the treatment process is different for each patient. To me, this makes neurology seem much more difficult, because the doctor must come up with a new way to treat each patient that is very specific to their disorder and their needs. For instance, several cases in the book, such as that of “Witty Ticcy Ray” (Chapter 10), and Natasha K. (Chapter 11) had disorders with certain positive aspects, and certain negative ones. What the patients wanted from Dr. Sacks was for the negative symptoms to go away and for the positive ones to remain. This altered the way in which Dr. Sacks went about treating them as compared to other patients with similar conditions. His treatment of these two patients has taught me that there is no clear-cut way of treating people with neurological disorders, even if their conditions are similar to other patients.
The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat has also taught me about the categories of disorders. Sacks talks about how any condition ending with “-mnesia” has to do with the memory, and how any disorder with “-gnosia” in its name has to do with recognition. This explanation is helpful when reading Sacks’ novel or any other text that mentions neurological disorders, as I often times do not know exactly what a condition entails based on its name.
Thirdly, I have learned much more about Tourette’s syndrome. Several chapters in Sacks’ novel discuss this condition in its varying degrees of intensity. I knew little about Tourette’s before reading this novel, so Sacks’ has helped me to understand the differences between Tourette’s patients and the severity of their syndromes, and also to understand what a Touretter’s daily life is like.
The collection of cases leaves me wondering what other neurological disorders there are, how they are caused, and how they differ from patient to patient. Although a large variety of cases are thoroughly discussed in Sacks’ novel, reading them has led me to believe that there are so many more unique and intriguing neurological cases. Sacks’ stories have shown me that many people are affected by neurological disorders, and that each patient is affected differently. For this reason, I know it is practically impossible to learn about every condition. However, I still ask what other conditions Sacks, or any other neurologist, has treated.
While reading this novel, I began to ask myself how there could be this entire world of neurological disorders that I was completely unfamiliar with. To me, neurology seemed to be an undiscussed field of medical science. Many people are familiar with sciences such as oncology and radiology, but few understand neurology and its treatments. Sacks’ novel describes many intriguing things about this field of science. So, why is neurology not more widely discussed?
Sacks’ descriptions of how he went about diagnosing his patients, and then treating them, followed his path of logic. The understanding of how he uses logic to solve these major problems in the lives of others help his readers to understand how to apply logic to any problem. After reading this novel, I understand how doctors, and other important people, don’t always use the knowledge they gained from their education to solve a problem. Instead, they use logic, which is a skill that everyone can and should learn.
The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tales is a nonfiction text by Dr. Oliver Sacks. In the book, Dr. Sacks describes the case histories of some of his patients who have fascinating neurological conditions. In the cases described, I find it interesting how many cases have been solved mostly by the patient. For instance, the case of Mr. MacGregor, and old man who always walked tilted to one side. In this case, MacGregor came up with the idea of how to solve his problem and Sacks simply helped him execute it. His idea consisted of a level attached to his glasses, which he would eventually learn to use subconsciously. This case, as well as several others, is a prime example of how the patient must be as determined as the doctor to cure himself. This idea is very relevant in the process of a patient’s physical recovery after a surgery.
I also find Sacks’ stories interesting because they show how each patient’s condition is unique. The book’s stories show a broad range of neurological conditions, each one unique to the person it affects. Sacks makes it apparent that although other patients may have conditions with similar symptoms, the cause of the condition, as well as the recovery, are usually not alike between patients. This idea comes into play in medical research. Doctors must consider that all patients are different, and therefore that not everyone can be treated the exact same way for the same condition.
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