The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

March 13, 2011

Linda Cannon, book review: Doctor’s latest book covers his own problems

JOPLIN, Mo. — It’s been about 25 years since I read “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” by Oliver Sacks, and I’ve read everything he’s written since.

Most are probably familiar with him through the 1990 movie version of “Awakenings,” starring Robin Williams. As is often the case, I’ve read the book but haven’t seen the movie. I can wholeheartedly recommend any and all of Sacks’ books, though, including his latest, “The Mind’s Eye.”

This one is a lot more personal than his others, dealing as it largely does with the brain/eye connection. Not to give too much away, but Sacks has been dealing with his own visual problems since December 2005. He devotes 66 pages to his own experience in the sixth chapter, “Persistence of Vision: A Journal,” but the other six chapters are all about patients with neurological problems.

The first chapter centers on a woman in her 60s, a well-known pianist who suddenly found herself unable to read sheet music after a lifetime of playing. This “alexia” (inability to read) progressed over a few years to an inability to read words, name objects and recognize faces.

As time wore on, she became less and less able to recognize objects, even familiar ones in her own home. If anything was not in its expected place, it might as well have been entirely absent.

Her ability to recognize things on sight continued to diminish, but she could often immediately recognize objects once she touched them and had no reduction in her ability to recognize people by their voices. She developed amazing coping skills that helped her live a more or less normal life for several years, but at last report she was heavily reliant on her husband -- even in their own home.

The second chapter concerns a very determined (not to mention willful and stubborn) woman who suffered a major stroke and lost nearly all her language skills. She had always been very verbal, and her aphasia was a terrible blow to her and her family.

Over time, she learned to cope very well with the use of a word book. Her ability to understand others was still quite impaired, but a therapist had put together a “word book” with sections for objects, people, events, emotions, etc. with which she was able to convey basic information.

Music therapy was also helpful, because singing uses different pathways in the brain, and that allowed her (following a session of singing) some short periods of time in which she could speak in a singsong fashion.

Her greatest talent, however, turned out to be her ability to mime or gesture to convey her thoughts and feelings. While words literally failed her, she was able to communicate through gesture.

I wondered while reading about her aphasia if sign language might not be useful in such cases, given the difference in the neural pathways used by the visual language from the written, but Sacks was silent on the issue.

“A Man of Letters” concerns alexia, the inability to recognize the written word. In this case, the patient had a stroke (undiagnosed for a few days) and found that his newspaper seemed to be written in Cyrillic or Korean or other symbologies he was not familiar with.

After finally going to the hospital a few days later, it was confirmed that he had indeed had a stroke and had been rendered incapable of recognizing the written word.

The brain being such a peculiar organ, he turned out to have alexia sine agraphia -- the inability to recognize language but the ability to write it. So, he could write and his writing was normal and recognizable to others, but still looked like foreign symbols to him.

Space prohibits me from saying much else, but there are other chapters about “face blindness,” stereo vision and different ways people cope with blindness.

If any of this whets your appetite to find out more about the strange and wonderful thing that is the human brain, you can check out any of the six Sacks titles on the subject at the library, including this one in text or audiobook.



 

1
Text Only
Globe Life
  • 041314_cj glass1.jpg Carl Junction students create projects, win awards at national contest with glass arts

    The students are part of a new glass arts class at Carl Junction High School taught by Jessica Sellars, a graduate of the school who earned her bachelor's degree from Missouri Southern State University and her masters of art education from Pittsburg State University. The art teacher taught for 20 years at Coronado High School, located in Henderson, Nev.

    April 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • ryan richardson Ryan Richardson: K-9 unit receives protection from donors

    I know I write a lot about pet advocacy in this column, but for a moment, I want to write about pet heroes.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • 091108-Frankie-Meyer_c.jpg Frankie Meyer: Website helps locate library microfilms

    Family history researchers must be determined sleuths to learn about some ancestors who don't show up in easily-obtained records. This week, I learned about a free resource that will help in the search of elusive ancestors.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • images_sizedimage_032123610 Patty Crane: Reporter's mea culpa found in identity theft

    As I was browsing the library's list of new materials for March, "True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa" by Michael Finkel caught my attention.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • 091108-Frankie-Meyer_c.jpg Frankie Meyer Website helps locate library microfilms

    Family history researchers must be determined sleuths to learn about some ancestors who don't show up in easily-obtained records. This week, I learned about a free resource that will help in the search of elusive ancestors.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • images_sizedimage_312124454 Linda Cannon: Gardening book helps plan for spring

    In springtime, many of us think of gardening, so, come snow or sleet or whatever, it's time to get into those gardening books and see what improvements can be made to our yards (or decks or patios if that's all you have).

    April 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • ryan richardson Ryan Richardson: Pet deposits legal in Missouri, vary by state

    Building upon last week's column about what goes into moving and renting with pets, I wanted to touch on something that I wasn't too sure a lot of people were familiar with. I had a few people ask me about the legalities of a pet deposit and how it applies to residents in Missouri.

    April 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • 091108-Frankie-Meyer_c.jpg Frankie Meyer: Website allows access to news archives

    Between 1982 and 2011, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress worked together to develop a program called "Chronicling America." Each year, NEH gave monetary awards to institutions in various states to digitize 100,000 pages of old newspapers that relate to each state's history.

    April 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • 040214 LIFE barbershop2_c.jpg Barbershop choirs grow in popularity thanks to singing TV shows, pop culture

    Singers call it the "angel's voice." The phenomenon occurs when a group of singers reach an identical chord, voices blended together as one, the harmonics justly tuned and balanced, creating a new frequency of sound that can "literally raise up the hair on the arm," said Don Snow.

    April 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • 091108-Frankie-Meyer_c.jpg Frankie Meyer: Berries were big business in Southwest Missouri history

    Recently, I noticed some blooms on my strawberry plants on the patio, and I was reminded of my youth in the Ozarks when children often earned money by picking strawberries in the fields of local farmers. I, along with my sisters, brother and all the other children in the area, looked forward to the experience each summer.

    March 31, 2014 1 Photo

Facebook
Poll

A Missouri Senate committee has endorsed a 1-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects. The proposed constitutional amendment passed the House earlier this month. If passed by the full Senate, the measure would head to the November ballot for voter approval. Would you vote in favor of it?

Yes.
No.
     View Results
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
NDN Video
Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case