Book Summary : the Man who Mistook


The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales written by bestselling author of Awakenings and Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks, is a novel that addresses and highlights the various patients that the author himself dealt with over the course of being a neurologist. The book is divided into four parts: Losses, Excesses, Transports, and The World of the Simple. Within the parts are individual case histories of patients that Dr. Sacks’s encountered.
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Part one addresses losses, which introduced by Sacks are deficits of the brain. Some of the cases involved in Losses are patients that were diagnosed with Visual Agnosia, Korsakoff’s syndrome, loss of proprioception, disembodiment of the left leg, the unknown ability to control the hands and the inability to interpret sensory data, which resulted in a situation where a patient by the name of Mr.Macgregor was unaware that he was tilting when he walked.
Part two acknowledges the excesses, which Sacks refers to as “what the patient does,” which can be rephrased as neurology in action and the benefits and disadvantages of certain disorders. Some of the case histories presented in this section involve patients that suffered and strengthened from Tourette’s, Cerebral Syphilis, Korsakoff’s Syndrome and the inability to differentiate between basic things. Since the patients in this section recognized their disorders as gifts, they did not want to lose the feelings they had from the disorder. Sacks aids in a few of the issues that the patients were encountering by making them easier to deal with and sort of limiting them in a way that was beneficial. For instance, Sacks lowered the amount of symptoms Ray, a patient who suffered from Tourette’s, received by providing him with Haldol and by allowing him to go through therapy to deal with his newly formed behavior post-Tourette’s.
Part three covers cases that address the phrase “something the matter,” which in other words are conditions that specialize in the power of imagery and memory, which happens to be a reoccuring theme in this section. The case histories in this section include fulfillment of personal needs through music caused by seizures to the temporal lobes, elevation of sexual memories from the use of L-Dopa to treat Parkinson’s, enjoyment of seizures caused by a growing tumor, unusual and perhaps beneficial sensory consequences via PCP use, memory formation due to a bike incident which resulted in a coma, and the communication with God via hallucinations and visions in the brain.
Part four introduces and explains the concept of concreteness, which refers to the unique abilities within the patients in relation to the world as a whole. The cases presented in this chapter are mainly focused on individuals that are disabled intellectually. The case histories include a patient who uses art and metaphors as a tool of coping and grieving with death and the real world despite disability, the appreciation of music and how it brings along peace and joy in everyday life, the use of complex mathematical talent and how it results in major success in spite of diagnosis, and the beauty of autism in relation to artistic abilities.
All of the parts in Sacks’s novel addresses “problems” within the patients that he once encountered. Some of the patients “problems” turned out to be positive contributions to their lives. With the help of Oliver Sacks and the patients themselves, the patients were able to progress in their noted problems. All of the case histories were quite interesting, but I found one in particular to be my favorite, which was titled Murder. The case history concerned a man by the name of Donald that happened to kill his girlfriend while he was under the influence of PCP. The fact that he had no memory of the murder was very strange because it is rare for someone to not remember something as vivid as death. Another thing that shocked me was that he was eventually able to form the memory of killing his girlfriend after a bike incident, which left him with brain injuries to the frontal lobes and a short term coma. He began to remember the murder so vividly that he made suicidal attempts to try to clear them forever. It was soon discovered that Donald had epilepsy, which triggered the force of recollection. With the help of Dr.Sacks and frontal lobe substitution therapy, Donald was able to live a much better life even though he still had frequent thoughts of the murder.
I found this case history in particular quite amazing mainly because Sacks mentioned that there was no evidence that explained why Donald had amnesia from the actual murder. This case shows that some events and situations are so in depth and complex that not even individuals who specialize in the brain can figure out. Not all things can be figured out by individuals even with the help of technology and other tools. This chapter just gives in to the idea that some things just happen for a reason whether the reason is known or unknown.
I enjoyed the novel a great deal and was taken by surprise when I read the numerous case histories of the patients. I expected the book to be nothing like it was. I am very glad that I read the novel and learned new things, especially in relation to the neurological world.

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