Oliver Sacks is a physician, best-selling author, and professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine. The British-born physician, scientist, and author has amassed a body of work that is highly acclaimed and he has been referred to as one of the most brilliant clinicians of our time. He is also dying of cancer. Last week he shared his thoughts on the diagnosis in a moving New York Times editorial.
Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.
On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.
I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.
This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.
Read the full editorial: My Own Life–Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer
Sacks moved to New York from England in 1966. Shortly after relocating, he began to work at what was then called the Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx. Here he treated people who had fallen victim to encephalitis lethargica, a sleeping sickness. This work was the basis for his book, Awakenings, on which the 1990 film of the same name was based. He has spent time teaching at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Columbia University Medical Center and the New York University School of Medicine. He has also worked at a neurological consultant and served on the boards of several prominent organizations.
Sacks suffers from face blindness (prosopagnosia) which he discussed with 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl in March 2012. He lost vision in his right eye in 2010 as a result of a malignant tumor. Among his books are:
- On The Move
- The Mind’s Eye
- Oaxaca Journal
- Uncle Tungsten
- The Island of the Colorblind
- An Anthropologist on Mars
- Seeing Voices
- The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
- A Leg to Stand On