Top positive review
15 people found this helpful
on October 3, 2015
After I ordered the book, I also ordered the movie with Robert de Niro and Robin Williams, which I watched right away. The movie is way more accessible than the book, as one would assume, since it was made with entertainment, at least partly, in mind.
The book is an exhaustive look at a number of patients who had encephalitis lethargica, a flu-like disease which had a global appearance in the early 20th c., then seemed to disappeared into the ether. Patients who had it in their early lives seemed to go into a trance-like (or as Sacks sometimes called it, Parkinsonian) state and became burdens on their families. Oliver Sacks' interaction with them was typically after many years had passed, and they had been committed to the hospital where he worked. The use of L-Dopa was just beginning as a treatment for this kind of disorder, and Dr. Sacks began to experiment with it on these patients. As a result, but on a very individualistic basis, they would "awaken" from their trance, and be able to function once again as capable, intelligent and independent, even joyful, human beings. This would last for awhile, before the drug would either stop working, or have some kind of deleterious effect on the patients, all of which Dr. Sacks records in the book.
One of the fascinating aspects of the story is how Sacks describes the patients' feelings about their life experience. Some are horrified that they went to sleep at, say, age ten, and woke up much older. Others are grateful they had a chance to be alive again. Some have memory of being in the vegetative state, others don't. The way their families interact with them upon their awakening is also informative and varied; some are ecstatic, others threatened, still others downright angry.
When the book came out, the medical community shunned it, and it's easy to see why. Oliver Sacks (who died this year) was very vocal about the way he thought doctors came up short when dealing with patients, aka human beings. He railed against them for treating people separately from their disease, and treating a disease, e.g. cancer, like it was the same for every patient. His revolutionary thought was that individuals and their diseases have a symbiotic relationship, and to treat the disease, one must treat the individual. "Awakenings" is a classic example of how to do this, and an exhilarating, if also frightening, look into the human psyche.