The man who mistook his wife for a hat

“The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” written by Oliver Sacks, is a book of case studies in which individuals with neurological dysfunctions are described. “Hippocrates introduced the historical conception of disease, the idea that diseases have a course, from their first intimations to their climax or crisis, and thence to their happy or fatal resolution. ” (Sacks, Preface vii). The cases chronicled, possessing dysfunctions of the cerebral area, also pose significant impairments to daily life actions. These impairments include, but are not limited to, “loss of memory, loss of vision, and loss of identity” (Sacks, 3).

Impairments such as these usually disrupt one’s life and the life’s of those that are close to them. Individuals who are mentally challenged face constant difficulties and function somewhat differently than “normal individuals”. This is however not to say that one who is mentally challenged cannot excel in other areas. The subjects of many of the recorded cases have high intelligence along with their unusual impairments. In the clinical study entitled “The Lost Mariner”, Jimmy G. suffers from a form of amnesia, affecting his ability to remember recent memories. “What sort of life (if any), what sort of a world, what sort of a self, can be preserved in a man who has lost the greater part of his memory and, with this, his past, and his moorings in time? ” (Sacks, 23)

Described as “charming, intelligent, memoryless Jimmie G. ” (Sacks, 23), Jimmie suffers from short term memory loss. He has however, retained extraordinary skills in mastering mind games and his overall intelligence. One example would be when Jimmy would go to Oliver Sacks’ clinic for his daily session, he would not be able to recall having previously met the neurologist. Some mentally challenged individuals are gifted with savant syndrome.

Those with savant syndrome excel in abilities not considered to be related to general intelligence. Jimmie excelled in performing arithmetical calculations, even though he could not remember events past the time of World War II. Another given example of savant syndrome is the set of twins referred to as “mental calculators” (Sacks, 195). The twins had uncanny skills in complicated long term calculations. One could imply a calender date and the twins could quickly calculate the day of the week, and would also know the events on that specific day. Simple addition and subtraction problems, however, eluded them.

The twins displayed a concrete understanding in their mathematical competence, obtaining the solution by “dividing a compound into three equal parts” (Sacks, 200). Additionally, the twins sustained some brain damage and could not speak plainly, as “normal” individuals do. Instead, they developed their own form of language so they could communicate with each other. Seemingly opposite to amnesia is the ability of iconic memory, or what is also known as photographic memory. While most people associate iconic memory as simply being photographic, in truth it may also include auditory elements.

Music is the most popular form of entertaining stimulus due to its accessibility. Music can represent thoughts and emotions of either one person or of an entire community. A clinical study entitled “Reminiscence” documented a Mrs O’M.. She complained of constantly hearing not simply noise, but rather music in her head. Her initial complaint was of hearing sounds while she was sleeping, but thought the radio had merely been left on. An EEG showed a high voltage and excitability in both of her temporal lobes, meaning that her mind was hearing auditory hallucinations of music.

Mrs. O’M. described the songs as having meaning, associated with her life experiences. Mrs. O’M. ‘s hallucinations extended to feeling her mother’s touch and hearing her exact voice. A Mrs. O’C. also heard songs played in her mind. The songs were accompanied by exact memories of her childhood. The songs and iconic memories, self reportedly, “gave back a forgotten bit of [her] childhood” (Sacks, 134). Expressions give us the ability to differentiate between varying amounts of happiness or sadness on a familiar face. The interaction of sensing expressions plays an important role in the daily functions of our lives.

“A Matter of Identity” is another one of Sacks’ clinical studies. In this study, Tom Pitkins has difficulty recognizing facial expressions, as well as body language. Those who have difficulty distinguishing between expressions of fear, loathing, love, and happiness, also have difficulties with their own expressions. Another disease related to emotion is Cupid’s Disease, the syndrome of falling in love. Rather than the difficulty expressing emotion, this syndrome is an over expression of the emotion love. At ninety years old, a woman named Natasha K. experienced having strong feelings and urges for younger men.

Cupid’s Disease “made [her] feel livelier, friskier” than ever (Sacks, 103). Due to it’s energetic effect, Natasha even savored the disease. Natasha sought treatment, but still acknowledged the allure of disease. Oliver Sacks’ book enlightens us to the fact that neurological dysfunctions do not discriminate. No age, race, or sex is exempt from the possibility of being afflicted. Accepting the differences of those who think differently is a duty of each one of us. In my opinion, everyone should be more tolerant of neurological impairments, because anyone could be struck by one.

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