The questions. Lastly, Sacks’ attitude to the patients described

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Man Who
Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Psychology Textbook

 

The book The Man
Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks is a masterful compilation
of interesting cases from his practice, and it is very curious from multiple
points of view. First of all, in it, real people having real yet unusual
conditions are described. Although many of the cases seem very weird, they are
all real and this significantly widens the perspective on what is human being
and what the world we live in is like. Secondly, due to their unusualness,
these cases elicit multiple connections to other fields of life, psychology,
and important social and general questions. Lastly, Sacks’ attitude to the
patients described in the book encourage the readers to treat all other people,
especially those with disorders, much more kindly, patiently, and humanely.

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The first parallel that I would like to draw between
the book by Sacks and chapters 10-15 from the Psychology textbook by Ciccarelli & White is the connection
between the case of Jose from Chapter 24 and the concepts of prejudice and
discrimination from Chapter 12. Prejudice is defined by Ciccarelli & White
(2015, p. 476) as an unsupported and often negative stereotyped attitude
towards the members of a certain social group. Discrimination is when members
of a certain social group are treated differently than others in situations
that call for equal treatment (Ciccarelli & White, 2015, p. 476). These
concepts from the chapter clearly relate to the treatment of Jose and autists
in general. Let us elaborate on this connection by reviewing the story of Jose.

According to Sacks, a 21-year-old young man Jose is an
autistic genius, who despite all the expectations of the capabilities of
autistic people excels at drawing. When Sacks met Jose, the latter was
characterized as retarded or even an idiot who had violent seizures and was put
into the clinic exactly because of his seizures. Jose exhibited extremely poor
mental capabilities, moreover, he could not read time from the clock or even
speak. He did not attend school since early age due to his medical condition
(temporal lobe seizures and abnormal amount of spinal fluid); he was regarded
as a hopeless who will only be able to live his empty and meaningless life
isolated. Sacks also explains that Jose did not excel at assembling things,
memorizing large scopes of data or calculating large numbers this is why he was
not considered an autistic savant – a person who has disability but greatly
excels in some other field. During that time, the cases of autistic savants
included people with mechanical, mnemonic, or mathematical capabilities – the
fields like art were thought to be only for healthy and mature personalities.
However, As Sacks surprisingly found out, Jose excelled at drawing – he gave
extremely sharp attention to all the details, yet his drawings were not simply
copies, he added his own and distinct style to them. Sacks dedicated
considerable time and effort to investigating and describing Jose, however,
even considering all these efforts he was still unsure of whether Jose’s life
will change.

Jose’s case represents several prejudices and discriminations
at the same time. The first and most obvious one is that because of his medical
condition he was given up on as a person from the very beginning. No one
expected him to be of any use for society, at best he was regarded as a
meaningless part of it, however, most likely, he was regarded as a burden. Yet
he had a unique vision and impressive talent that could be used for multiple
purposes and generally be of great use for society. The second prejudice is the
lack of evidence. Before this case, as Sacks reports, medical science
considered that autistic savants could not excel at such complex field as art –
partly, this is why Jose and his genius has not been given proper attention.
Lastly, even when his talent was discovered, he was denied of a pen, which he
adored using as a drawing tool, and was given only crayons which he disliked.
Jose’s case represents a huge gap existing between how the world is and how the
world could be if people gave attention to proper things. Although this is not
the most critical or abundant type of prejudice and discrimination, it
certainly shows to which extent they slow down and limit the progress of humans
as cultural, ethical, and rational creatures.

The second connection that I would like to draw
between the two books concerns sexually transmitted disorders and mental
effects that they have. In Chapter 10 of Cicarrelli & White (2015, p. 411),
sexually transmitted infections (STI) are defined as infections that are spread
primarily through sexual contact. The most common STIs are chlamydia, syphilis,
gonorrhea, genital herpes, genital warts, and AIDS. Obviously, catching any
disease is undesired, but when it comes to STIs, catching one of them is
usually much more undesired than virtually any other disease. First of all,
this is because most of them have severe health effects, make sexual contacts
extremely problematic, and even put some kind of stigma on a person.
Particularly, when it comes to syphilis, Ciccarelli & White (2015, p. 412)
cite sores that appear on genitals and can spread to other body parts as the
main symptom. Syphilis certainly has unpleasant symptoms, however, sometimes
some of its side effects can be desirable.

The two patients that Oliver Sacks describes in
Chapter 11 “Cupid’s Disease” are exactly the cases when a disease
produced desirable side-effects. The first of them, Natasha K., a lively
ninety-years-old woman contacted a doctor because of sudden changes in her
personality. Suddenly, she has become much more active and outgoing. In her old
age, she suddenly felt interested in young men and started acting much more
relaxedly. This was rather strange because she has always been modest and
temperate, moreover, her euphoria was gradually growing throughout the last
year. Having noted such changes in herself, Natasha K. figured out that this
must be due to some illness. Her initial suggestion that later turned out to be
true was that it was due to Cupid’s Disease or, in plain language, syphilis.
The tests confirmed that she had neurosyphilis that became active after 70
years of slumber. Natasha K. confessed that she had syphilis when she was
young, and at that time, it was not completely eradicated – it was only
suppressed. After so many years, the infection became active and started to
stimulate her cerebral cortex which triggered increased activity and drive.

The most interesting part of the story was that she
actually did not want the symptoms of the disease to be removed. Natasha K.
contacted the doctor because she was afraid that the changes of her personality
would get too severe and she would lose control over herself. So she wanted to
stop the progress of the disease, however, she also did not want to revert its
current effects. Sacks used penicillin treatment, so the infection was killed,
but the changes of her personality remained untouched. So, thanks to her latent
syphilis, he got significantly refreshed and renewed her interest in life.

Sacks describes other effects of neurosyphilis on a
male patient, whose imagination got significantly boosted because of the
disease. Neurosyphilis in Miguel O. made him more imaginative and his
perception became much more lively and dynamic. Sacks met him only three times,
and the last time they met Miguel was down – his disease was treated, but the
side effects, like boosted imagination, have also gone away, and he missed
them.

Although it is not common that diseases have positive
side effects, at some point in their progression, the symptoms of neurosyphilis
can have desired effects. This is an extremely curious phenomenon considering
the nature of the STIs described above – the most undesired diseases may
sometimes have desired effects. Although this is very ironical, it does not
make STIs less dangerous. In general, this chapter arises an important question
– people seem to have sleeping powers within them which can somehow be
awakened. In this chapter, neurosyphilis was the factor that awakened these
capabilities, however, they may also exist other methods. And even if there are
none, could the positive effects of diseases be controlled and maintained
without posing danger to a person. Perhaps these questions will become the main
focal points of serious researches, while nowadays these cases support the old
saying that there are always positive and negative sides in everything.

The third concept that connects the two books is the
concept of identity disorder. In Chapter 14 of Ciccarelli & White, notable
attention is given to the dissociative disorders and particularly dissociative
identity disorder. According to the textbook definition, dissociative identity
disorder (DID) is such disorder that a person has multiple distinct
personalities. In cases of DID there may exist a “core” personality, who
experiences blackouts when other personalities come into action, also it does
not know anything about other personalities existing in the body. The concept
of DID can somehow be related to the story of William Thomson from the 12th
chapter of Sacks’ book.

Although Mr. Thomson had a much more serious condition
than DID, his experience somehow relates to it as he also had multiple
personalities. William Thomson was ex-grocer who a medical condition similar to
the one Jimmie J. from the second chapter had – Korsakov’s syndrome. He could
not form new long-term memories and had only his short-term memory that does
not last long. However, when it comes to the symptoms, the case of Mr. Thomson
was different from the one of Jimmie G. Jimmie had his pre-Korsakov’s memories
intact, this is why he identified himself with his former self, at the same
time, Mr. Thomson seemed to be separated from most of his conscious memories
and was left only with his bright and outgoing personality. He constantly
invented new identities for himself based on what he perceived. His manner of
communication was very lively and comical – he was very funny and at first
glance was just a bright man, his medical condition was not evident behind the
shiny façade of his personality. However, the irony is that because of his
condition, he did not have a single identity. He did not have sharp and
distinct memories of who and what he was – his stories were always different.
Although there were often repeated stories like the real one – that he was a
grocer, Mr. Thomson did not have a singular narrative about himself – he seemed
to have lived multiple lives.

Although his personality can initially be seen as
beneficial for a person having such medical condition as Mr. Thomson, in
reality, it is also a curse. While Jimmie G. from the second chapter could not
form new memories, he lived in the world much influenced by his former
memories. He had a single world but was lost in it. William Thomson, in his
turn, was lost in his jokes and fantasies. Although from the outside he seemed
funny, the humor could only be understood by someone from the outside. Mr.
Thomson himself did not have stable identity therefore what others perceived as
a joke was actually his reality. He constantly drifted in the changing and
unstable world of his imagination. It is exactly because of that, Mr. Thomson
could not establish lasting connections with anyone.

Another parallel can also be drawn between the DID and
Mr. Thomson’s condition. While in DID there is often a “core”
personality, Mr. Thomson seemed to lack this “core” personality. He
did not have a stable identity this is why he was always a different person –
he was in the never-ending wandering with no point to return. It is in this
respect, Sacks suggests, Mr. Thomson’s condition is somehow sadder than Jimmie
G.’s. Jimmie could connect with people on the emotional level even although he
could not form new memories involving them. Mr. Thomson with his changing
identities could not do so because of his constant confabulation. While having
DID itself poses serious problems for a person because of things that the
person does not remember doing, memory and time lapses. The condition of Mr.
Thomson is even more problematic because he does not remember anything, even
his real identity. It is like having only side personalities without the “core”
one speaking in DID terms. However, as Sacks reports, Mr. Thomson still was
able to feel at rest and at peace. Despite being unable to establish
connections with other people, when being alone Mr. Thomson seemed to be at
peace in a garden. Sacks makes a guess that only at such moments Mr. Thomson
could truly be himself, however, it is unclear which identity this self had at
the moment.

 The Chapter 19
of the Sacks’ book seems to connect to several social issues at once. The story
in this chapter describes the case of a man Donald, who killed his girlfriend
under the influence of PCP. However, the murder itself is only the context for
the whole story. The most interesting part of the story is that Donald forgot
what he did and could not recover even the smallest detail of the act. He was
even hypnotized and given sodium amytal to free his memories if they were
repressed, but nothing helped. He was diagnosed with an organic amnesia and
sent to psychiatric hospital for criminally insane.

In the hospital, he developed a passion for creating
different gardens and seemed to have achieved peace. After 4 years in the
hospital, he was acknowledged stable enough to leave the hospital for weekends.
On one of such weekends, he went cycling and got a severe head injury. Donald
was in coma for almost two weeks but recovered. However, together with his
physical recovery returned the memories of the accident. Donald was struck with
hallucinations of photographic quality which elaborated on the smallest details
of the murder he committed. These visions were so intense that he had to be
heavily tranquilized and restrained – he even attempted suicide twice. As the
murder was rather vile, the details were not revealed in the court and were
never revealed to Donald. Moreover, he could not find them anywhere else.
However, after the trauma, he was questioned about the act without giving any
hints and recreated the scene up to the smallest detail. At first, Donald’s
amnesia was quite a mystery, and after the trauma, the not less mysterious
recovery added to the picture. For a long time, Donald was obsessed with these
vivid visions, however, over time, the combination of psychotherapy and medical
treatment helped him regain balance. Although the visions did not go away he
learned to control and cope with them. Donald proceeded with his passion for
gardening and seemed to have achieved peace in this activity (Sacks, 1990,
p.80).

This story connects to several social issues at the
same time. The first and most obvious connection is to the problem of drug
addiction and crimes committed under the effect of drugs or for the sake of
drugs. This is a serious issue because despite all the efforts and funds spent
on fighting drug addiction, the efficiency of this fight has been very low.
This is because literally fighting drug addiction is not the best way to
eliminate drug addiction. The problem is not in the drugs themselves but in the
factors that encourage people to escape reality and get addicted. The drugs are
only the means to the goals, not the goals themselves. This is why not the
means should be fought, but the main reason. In Donald’s case, the latter
approach is evident – he was placed in the atmosphere where he was cared for
and was not in isolation. Moreover, Donald could do what he really wants to and
finds inspirational. As a result, Donald found his passion in gardening and did
not have to use drugs again because he did what he liked and was not in
isolation, also the hospital where he lived was a place free of social dangers.
This is why Donald recovered and did not have to return to the drug addiction.

Another issue this story related to is the obsolete
judicial system. In this story, the problem itself is not so evident, because
the decision made on Donald is actually directed at preventing possible acts of
violence by Donald. However, on the national scale, the judicial system mainly
pursues retributive rather than preventive goals. As a result, American prisons
are overcrowded and it seems that new and new prisons will have to be built.
The system itself works in such way that it does not encourage people to not
commit crimes but to commit crimes and be caught. As a result, most people are
only worse off. The retributive justice dates to several millennia ago and with
the development of the concept of preventive justice have become obsolete. Yet,
the government does not urge the transition to it. If everything will remain as
it is, in future, we will face even more severe problems caused by the judicial
system. 

 

References

Ciccarelli, S.,
& White, J. (2015). Psychology. Boston (Mass.) etc.: Pearson.

Sacks, O. (1990). The
man who mistook his wife for a hat and other clinical tales. New York:
HarperPerennial.

 

 

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