By Lee Landenberger
It's shocking and liberating to read Oliver Sacks' New York Times op-ed that details his feelings about a very recent diagnosis of terminal cancer. The scientist and best-selling author is clear about his intent to not linger as many others do, trapped in a health system that often seems designed to keep the dying alive as long as possible at the expense of the quality of remaining life.
It’s a tableau tens of thousands of physicians and nurses see parade by them every day across the United States.
“It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me,” he writes. “I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.”
Sacks then deftly tucks into a quote from David Hume, one of his heroes, who said of his own impending death: “I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution.”
It’s the reasoned view of someone with a passionate knowledge of the health system. Sacks’ writings are personal yet beautifully documented tales of where modern science, the ability to extend and improve lives, and the human soul collide. It’s the stuff of modern life, one that’s often not pretty. Yet Sacks is taking the high road and walking on the sunny side of the street for as long as he feels is reasonable.
“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
Oliver Sacks, now 81, wrote Awakenings, a non-fiction view of sleeping sickness that made its way to Hollywood and stardom more than two decades ago. Perhaps his best-known work is The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. He also wrote fairly recently about music’s effect on the mind and body in Musicophilia. Each of these works are personal yet candid tales about diseases and the ability of science to effectively, and sometimes ineffectively, treat them.
As a clinical professor of neurology at Albert Einstein University and a former instructor at the New York University School of Medicine, he’s no stranger to the healthcare system or its successes and foibles. Like Christopher Hitchens, another public intellectual who serially wrote about his own coming death, Sacks has bravely chosen to make his feelings and his choices public.
You can read the entire piece here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/opinion/oliver-sacks-on-learning-he-has-terminal-cancer.html?ref=opinion
Lee Landenberger is AHC Media's Continuing Education & Editorial Director.