J.C.'s Reviews > The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks
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May 15, 2008

really liked it
Read in June, 1996

** spoiler alert ** I came across an old reading journal, where I summarized each of the stories in this intruiging book:

A collection of stories about patients with neurological disorders—strange, unique, and human.

“The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”—Dr. P cannot recognize faces or visual images. His brain is deteriorating in a way that causes him to see only individual features and not the whole. He can only keep at a task by singing, and if he’s interrupted, he forgets everything.
“The Lost Mariner”—A 49-year old man cannot remember anything past the mid-1940s, and he always thinks he is 19. He can’t hold any thought for more than a few seconds, although he is very sharp. He has no real emotions, since he can’t really remember anything, but he seems to find peace when he gardens.
“The Disembodied Lady”—A once-healthy woman suddenly loses all sense of proprioception”—her sense of self and where her body is. She has to relearn walking, etc., by watching all her movements (so she knows where everything is).
“The Man Who Fell Out of Bed”—A man who thinks someone has attached a fake leg to his body tries to throw it out of bed—but realizes it is his own. He cannot recognize it, or feel it, but he cannot think where his own leg might be. It is like a dead leg.
“Hands”—60 year old blind woman with cerebral palsy cannot do anything with her hands because they feel like lumps of dough. She is taught, however, to recognize things by touch, and finally she learns to sculpt. She reveals her true talent as an artist, and proves that others with her problem can also be cured.
“Phantoms”—A phantom is the sensation of feeling a limb is still intact, even after it has been amputated. This can sometimes be painful, dangerous, or even helpful. It is nearly impossible to teach an amputee to walk again if there is no sensation that a leg still exists. This is not one, but several short examples.
“On the Level”—A dynamic 93-year old man with Parkinson’s disease doesn’t realize he is walking at a tilted 20-degree angle. He fixes the problem ingeniously, however, by designing a special pair of glasses that work as a spirit level, just as in carpentry. He can tell when he’s walking straight.
“Eyes Right”—Having suffered a massive stroke that affected her right cerebral hemisphere, a woman in her 60s no longer has a concept of “left.” She cannot look left and only makes up half of her face. When shown a video image of herself, she can see her left, but it is disturbing to her since she cannot feel it.
“The President’s Speech”—Aphasiacs cannot understand words as such, but they can recognize utterance well enough to understand almost completely what was said to them. This is why they found the president’s speech so funny—they understood what he was saying better than those who understood he words.
“Witty Ticcy Ray”—A victim of Tourette’s since 4, Ray cannot imagine a life without his sudden, violent tics. They keep him sharp-witted, quick, and brilliant at percussion and ping-pong. He briefly tries the drug Haldol but is discouraged to find it slows him down and prevents him from being himself. For 3 months, he imagines life without Tourette’s, and when he tries the drug again, it works ‘miraculously.’ But because he misses his ‘freedom,’ he does not take the drug on weekends—and leads a stable life.
“Cupid’s Disease”—Having contracted syphilis 70 years ago, and having it treated but not eradicated, Mrs. K suddenly feels younger, livelier, and “frisky.” Rather than having it treated, however, she chooses to remain feeling young. Another man experiencing this excited stage of neurosyphilis is very animated. After being given Haldol to quiet him down, he lost his animation and energy.
“A Matter of Identity”—Mr. Thompson cannot identify anyone correctly, so he makes up fictional characters and recognizes people as such. He also cannot accurately remember anything, and so he creates a past of fiction. He is like Jimmie in “The Lost Mariner” with Korsakov’s, but the only time he seems at peace is when he’s by himself and doesn’t need to make up stories.
“Yes, Father-Sister”—Although very smart, Mrs. B developed an irreversible indifference to the world. She knew the difference between right and left, but it didn’t mean anything to her.
“The Possessed”—The story relates the author’s experience of seeing a “Super Touretter” in the streets of NYC. The woman mimicked every person she saw, but was incapable of creating any gestures of her own. She lacked her own personality and was eaten away by Tourette’s.

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Keith Thank you. It's been years since I read the book, and you helped me remember what was in it.


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