Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Oliver Sacks

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 1, 2015


Oliver Sacks, a UCLA trained neurologist, famous for his “stealing” a patient from the hospital to take her on a joy ride on his motorcycle, to give her some pleasure in the midst of a devastating illness. He promoted the human mind as a complex entity which can only be studied by listening to the narrative, the construction of a story, as a window into the brain. Inspiring. He listened and he wrote and then he listened more intensely in order to understand and to share the inconsistencies of the human mind. He reminds me why I am board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, as our fields merge in their passion for understanding the human nervous system. Today, of course, neurology is dominated by intense imaging studies which reveal more than we ever thought possible. Although that technology is immensely valuable to those who have mysterious neurological conditions, it does not, or should not, replace the need to listen to the patient’s narrative as a way of understanding their struggles. Oliver Sacks reminded us of this through his personal journey and through his eloquent writings. He shared with us that curiosity was a good first step to examining the brain. He is my hero.



2 Responses to “Oliver Sacks”

  1. Shelly said

    I still wish we had physicians who cared and had time enough to listen to us like you describe. Most of the time our physicians stare at computer screens and not at us at all. For sure they don’t listen and they don’t seem to care about the patient, but rather, in checking the right boxes in the EMR. We get our 7 minutes with the physician and then they move on to the next patient.

    • Yes, that is right. The medical narrative is, for the most part, gone, sadly. The EMR has made it go away, I agree. The connection with patients is diminished considerably and so with that goes the job satisfaction. That is not to say that good medical care cannot be obtained, but it is to say that the doctor/patient relationship, along with the healing power associated with that, is no longer valued or taught. The irony is that the health care disparities increase with EMR because those that can afford to pay private fees can afford to obtain more personalized medicine. Like all service industries, to get attention comes at a hefty fee. Maybe we need to accept that as part of capitalism, but as someone who has witnessed the change in health care delivery, I feel very sad about this.

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