Doctor Sacks ― The Marvelous Doctor
“Today we fight. Tomorrow we fight. The day after, we fight. And if this disease plans on whipping us, it better brings a lunch, 'cause it's gonna have a long day doing it.”
― Jim Beaver
For years, people have been fighting against various diseases. Through persistence and will to fight, people are able to put up a fight against the diseases and live considerably well together with them. In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat written by Oliver Sacks, Chapter 2: The Lost Mariner talked about a former navy called Jimmie, who had fought in World War 2, as he fought against Korsakov’s disease. Conversely, Chapter 7: On the Level talks about Mr. MacGregor, a 93 years old man who fought against Parkinson’s disease. Although the disease diagnosed and treatment process were different, by working with Doctor Sacks, which involved referring to older medical literatures, patients’ life condition can be improved. He was able to accurately diagnose the disease for the patients and then conducted the treatment process accordingly with the help of medical literatures.
Although disease diagnosed for Jimmie and Mr. MacGregor differed, Doctor Sacks was still able to accurately determine their disease. When he first met Jimmie in Home for the Aged, Jimmie could not remember he had met him after 2 minutes had passed. After a series of tests, he deduced that Jimmie had his memory cut-off around 1945 and could not form any new memories. Then, by reading the report from Bellevue Hospital which stated that Jimmie’s disease was caused by heavy consumption of alcohol, he was assured that Jimmie had Korsakov’s disease. Meanwhile, Mr. MacGregor had trouble maintaining his body composure straight. When he first met him in Neurology clinic of St. Dunstan's, he could not walk with his body straight. This could be caused by either damaged labyrinth, proprioceptive or visual systems. But, these three control systems were normal for Mr. MacGregor. Therefore, he deduced that the complex integration of these systems was damaged and that was caused by Parkinson’s disease. Although the diseases diagnosed for Jimmie and Mr. MacGregor differed, but, by going through some specific tests, he was able to accurately deduce the disease that both of them had. This led him into researching for medical literatures relevant to their diseases in order to find the appropriate treatment for them.
By referring to related medical literatures for both diseases, Doctor Sacks obtained hints regarding the appropriate treatment for his patients. In order to make sure that the disease that Jimmie has is Korsakov’s disease, he referred to Korsakov’s original thesis. It stated that those who had Korsakov’s disease, “memory of recent events was disturbed almost exclusively while impressions of long ago were recalled properly. Yet, the patient's ingenuity, sharpness of wit and resourcefulness remained largely unaffected.” (Sacks, 31) Since the symptoms matched with Jimmie’s, he further explored medical literatures related to Korsakov’s disease, which was Luria’s Neuropsychology of Memory. The literature stated that “Korsakov’s disease was caused by alcohol whereby the neuron destruction occurred only in the mammillary bodies, while the rest of the brain was perfectly preserved.” (Sacks, 32) On the other hand, for Mr. MacGregor’s case, he referred to The Basal Ganglia and Posture written by Purdon Martin. “In the section on 'tilting reactions', Martin emphasized the threefold contribution to the maintenance of a stable and upright posture. This triple control system, Martin implied, was such that one sense, one control, can partly compensate for the others to a useful degree.” (Sacks, 63) By referring to the relevant medical literatures, he was able to find out the root cause for the diseases as well as hints about how to treat his patients. From Luria’s medical literature, he was able to identify alcohol as the root cause for the disease. Then, from Korsakov’s thesis, he obtained a hint stating that those who had the disease were only able to remember their past. This led him to search for a way to calm Jimmie down by utilizing his past memories. Similarly, he was able to identify the damaged integration of three control systems as the root cause for Mr. MacGregor’s tilted body from Martin’s book. Besides that, he also found out that one of the systems can party compensate for other systems. This led him to search for a way to solve Mr. MacGregor’s problem by utilizing his visual ability.
After getting the hints from medical literature, Doctor Sacks was able to come up with the appropriate treatment process that is different for Jimmie and Mr. MacGregor. He found out that Jimmie was calm when he was in the chapel. This led him to suspect that Jimmie had past memories about going to church. He then deduced that by touching Jimmie’s past memories, Jimmie’s soul could be calmed down. After knowing so, he led Jimmie to watch dramas, listen to music and do gardening stuffs. When doing these activities, Jimmie was able to concentrate and therefore obtained peace. For Mr. MacGregor, he first experimented with a weighted thread hung from the rim of the spectacle, but failed because the weighted thread was too close to eyes. Then, he asked an optometrist for help. Finally, spectacle with “a clip extending two nose-lengths forward from the bridge of the spectacles, with a miniature horizontal level fixed to each side” (Sacks, 65) is made. With further slight adjustments on the spectacle, Mr. MacGregor was then able to train his visual ability to solve his tilted body composure using the spectacle. In both cases, although the treatment process differed, he proved that he was able to improve the patients’ life conditions if the patients worked with him.
In conclusion, all these aspects showed the differences in the disease diagnosed and treatment process between Jimmie and Mr. MacGregor as well as the similarity in how Doctor Sacks obtained more clues about the diseases. Despite all these differences and similarities, by working with him, their life conditions improved. By performing some diagnosis tests, he accurately deduced that Jimmie is diagnosed with Korsakov’s disease, while Mr. MacGregor is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Then, he referred to older medical literatures to find out more information about the diseases. In the end, by bringing the hints and knowledge together, he was able to improve their life conditions.
Sacks, Oliver. “Chapter 2 : The Lost Mariner.” The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks, Gerald Duckworth, 1985, pp. 25-41.
Sacks, Oliver. “Chapter 7 : On The Level.” The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks, Gerald Duckworth, 1985, pp. 61-65.
Beaver, Jim. Life's That Way: a Memoir. Berkley Books, 2010.