Monday, August 17, 2015

Oliver Sacks: My Periodic Table - The New York Times

I received an email from Oliver Sacks this morning (or rather from his staff at the Oliver Sack's Foundation.)

So what does this post have to do with health care ?  Nothing, or everything. Oliver  is a neurologist who has terminal cancer. He was diagnosed with ocular melanoma  He has had a rich productive life, not just as a physician but as an accomplished writer, admired by all.  And when he was young this man loved motorcycles, weight lifting and swimming,  several of which he still pursued.

The news was that Dr. Sack's has terminal cancer at age 82. He explains it in his genius and quirky sense of humor that those who know him will recognize by his commentary about dying.

"Bismuth is element 83. I do not think I will see my 83rd birthday, but I feel there is something hopeful, something encouraging, about having “83” around. Moreover, I have a soft spot for bismuth, a modest gray metal, often unregarded, ignored, even by metal lovers. My feeling as a doctor for the mistreated or marginalized extends into the inorganic world and finds a parallel in my feeling for bismuth.  I almost certainly will not see my polonium (84th) birthday, nor would I want any polonium around, with its intense, murderous radioactivity. But then, at the other end of my table — my periodic table — I have a beautifully machined piece of beryllium (element 4) to remind me of my childhood, and of how long ago my soon-to-end life began."

Sack's early years were not easy, as he describes his diversions from emotional pain with numbers and equations, as he eloquently states,

"I have tended since early boyhood to deal with loss — losing people dear to me — by turning to the nonhuman. When I was sent away to a boarding school as a child of 6, at the outset of the Second World War, numbers became my friends; when I returned to London at 10, the elements and the periodic table became my companions. Times of stress throughout my life have led me to turn, or return, to the physical sciences, a world where there is no life, but also no death."

Oliver Sacks Books

Oliver Sacks: My Periodic Table - The New York Times
Post a Comment