One year ago I wrote about Sherwin Nuland, and how graciously he wrote about How We Die. I was stunned in learning the news this morning that Oliver Sacks has terminal cancer, though unsurprisingly he will write about life’s end with as much dignity and grace as Dr. Nuland. The graphic by Hanna Barczyk that accompanies Oliver’s Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times is perfect, the petals floating around one eye depicting the adaptations he made upon losing an eye to cancer nine years ago, as his other eye now closes on the final chapter of his life.
I was an undergraduate student at Yeshiva University (YU) in Manhattan from 1969 – 1973, the early years of Oliver’s career at YU’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. I recall hearing stories about this wild and innovative neurologist, and his book on Migraines originally written remains one of the best treatises on the subject, particularly with regard to visual auras. I had no clue at the time that his aura would scintillate my future professional endeavors.
It is wonderful that Dr. Sacks was able to write his autobiography, On The Move, due out in May, while still in the vibrant stages of life. In fact he remains so vibrant to this day that it is very difficult to come to terms with the fact that the cancer originally appearing in his eye nine years ago has metastasized to his liver and will take him from us within months – according to the dire prediction that he shared. I am very much looking forward to reading his memoir and having it as a centralized, celebratory source of information about a very unique gentle man and scholar. Although I had the opportunity to interact with Oliver at a seminar only once, and share conversation with him at a luncheon in his honor, I have been privileged to know him vicariously through Sue Barry whom he dubbed “Stereo Sue”. The comments at the end of today’s Op-Ed piece attest to the huge impact Dr. Sacks has made on so many lives.