Philosophy paper on Dr. Oliver Sacks and the philosophical link to the movie Awakenings
In Awakenings Dr. Sayer is trying to figure out what caused all of the patients who acquired encephalitis in the twenties to turn catatonic, and what he could do to cure them. No one really believed him that these patients can be cured of their disease. He believed that even though they were “frozen” they were still alive inside. That their brains still knew how to function. He ran a series of tests and activities to get them to react. All the other doctors called the movement from the patients a reflex. No one thought that they actually had any brain stimulation going on. They assumed that since they were unable to move or speak that they were vegetables inside. Nobody but nurse Costello and Dr. Sayer believed that they could wake up the patients. He found a pill called L-Dopa that was for Parkinson’s patients and he wanted to try that. He gave it to Leonard to see if there would be any change since the patients had similar symptoms of Parkinson’s patients. After giving the medication to Leonard on a couple of occasions it woke him up. He was able to walk, talk, and function like a regular person. The only problem with the waking up process is that he never knew he was sleep. He woke up and didn’t realize that he lost so much time. He thought that no time had passed by since the day he fell asleep to the day that he awoke. Since he was a sleep for thirty years everything in the world was now new to him, and he wanted to learn everything all over again. Dr. Sayer asks the head doctor to try to get the board to give money so the rest of the group of “asleep” patients can wake up as well, but the head doctor is against it. Dr. Sayer speaks to the patrons of the hospital and shows them Leonard and they all donate. After he gives all the patients the medicine one by one they all awaken and become alive again. They all want things they have been deprived of for years, like taking walks by themselves. Leonard wanted the world to know that they were missing out on life. After awhile Leonard starts acquiring ticks, paranoia, and rage. He was deteriorating fast, and Dr. Sayer couldn’t figure out why. The others didn’t experience what Leonard was experiencing, which was good and bad. It was good because it meant it was an isolated incident but it was bad because it means that it isn’t the drug that is affecting him but something else. They up his dosage all the time but it just seems to make things worse. The only conclusion was that Leonard had something completely different than what the others had. He went back to the stage he was at before the medication but this time he has knowledge of what is happening to him. After awhile all the patients went back to their catatonic state. In the end none of the patients were cured. As treatments became available Dr. Sayer would try them but they were only awake for brief moments. None of these moments lasted longer than the first time they were all awakened. Dr. Sayer said in the end that he learned from Leonard and the rest of the patients to appreciate the little things in life, the things that we take for granted everyday. These things like walking and using the bathroom by themselves were taken away from the patients slowly. It made Dr. Sayer reach out to the patrons and try to get Leonard’s message across. Leonard wanted everyone to really live their lives and be spontaneous, because you never know when you won’t be able to anymore.
Dr. Sayer is a lot like Dr. Oliver Sacks. They are both out of the box thinkers. They believe that there is a way to help those considered helpless by others. Dr. Sacks always took on the unusual cases because he wanted to see if he could help the people that others claimed that were beyond help. In the beginning of the movie Dr. Sayer talks about his research with earth worms and how he did it even though everyone said it was impossible. Even though what he wanted to prove did turn out to be impossible he said that he knew and so did everyone else because he proved it. Both doctors believed that seeing something didn’t necessarily mean it was true. They need proof to show that these things can or can’t work. Proof is needed because your senses could be flawed like the one lady who only saw half of her body. She believed that there was nothing on the right side of her body and she didn’t even know it was missing. She would have makeup only on the left side of her face because to her the left side was her whole body. She needed proof that there actually was more than just the left side. She couldn’t go off of what other people said. She was proof that your sense could be false reporters. Although Virgil’s case is closer to Leonard’s than the lady. Virgil, upon receiving his sight again, had to relearn everything as well. He wasn’t asleep so he knew he was missing something but he lived a healthy life without sight. Upon receiving it things went well but became harder just like Leonard. Both Virgil and Leonard couldn’t understand why some things were just so hard for them to do. For Virgil it was hard for him to rely on his sight when he had been using his other senses for years. He didn’t want to use his sight because it became frustrating for him. He was never really sure what he was looking at and he had a hard time just taking everything for face value. He had to touch everything just to make sure his eyes were correctly reporting what he was actually seeing. When he couldn’t touch something, because that was kind of like cheating, he would have a harder time distinguishing the object because his eyes seemed useless to him. Leonard learned how to do everything very quickly but he deteriorated just as fast. Both Virgil and Leonard reacted in rage when the thing that was being restored was once again taken away. They had this opportunity to live a “normal” life and it was snatched away from them once again. Although Leonard drew the short straw because he went back to catatonic and he knew he was going back to being functionless, while Virgil just went back to being blind. Virgil was much happier when he was blind because it felt right to him. He knew how to function blind because that was the norm for him for so many years. Leonard became scared and angry when he started to return because he felt like he was losing so much after gaining his life back. Dr. Sayer never gave up on trying to find out what the disease was and how to cure it. He remained at the chronic hospital because he wanted to give the other patients a chance to be able to awaken and come out into the world. By taking on unusual cases Dr. Sacks and Dr. Sayer had a chance to prove what was considered impossible, possible. They didn’t do it for the recognition but because they really wanted to help the people who were written off by every other doctor because they were incapable to show that they could actually live. The other doctors in the movie were okay with believing that these patients reached the end of the line where their life was concerned. They never tried these out of the box testing that Dr. Sayer did. They just did the normal standard things and just classified them as atypical syndromes. They never thought that after all the atypical that maybe something was up. No one else saw the connection between the patients but Dr. Sayer, and no one else wanted to believe that the damage that was done could ever be erased. While they were right about reversing the damage, it never stopped Dr. Sayer from trying to help the people that everyone else forgot about.