Friday, January 21, 2011

Mystery of Mysteries - microbe causing sleepsickness makes epigenetic alterations

Find Oliver Sack's book "awakenings" - hold it in your hand, read it for pleasure, flip through its pages - its a peice of art - but none of it's 200 total pages describes the mechanism (indeed the 'why' and the 'how') these patients have been frozen in time. For the record, the book is an account of how Sacks, an 'odd uncommunicative fellow' when in his 30s, bearded to the hilt, and fresh off his doctorate in medicine, took up residence at a mental hospital in the early 1960s. He found more than 60 patients with an enigmatic disease - all were 'stuck in motion' - like statues, from a pandemic that struck the United State from 1910 to 1920. These patients were largely ignored and left to rot in their illness in crazy hospitals. The hallmark of the disease is it freezes not only the body, but the life - patients lose all memory once the disease strikes - and during intermitent bouts of come to - they cannot believe that the face staring back at them is indeed theres. "I am 60 but I FEEL 40".

An interview with Sacks on Charlie Rose is below. He comes in at minute 20 or so.
Anecdotes: He eats the same meal 3 times a day (he stole this trick from his patients, a type of 'know what to expect' idea). He was told by Francis Crick, when Crick was dying "how great it is, you will see consciousness, they will discover it in your lifetime, you will see it. I cannot". He loves ferns, his thing is to get a lot of science magazines and to lie in bed at night, to cut and peal it out parts, and immerse himself in their tails. He has a secretary (assistant), and she helps him identify people because he has face blindness. He is obsessed with the periodic table. Robin Williams portrayed him in the film awakenings. He once injured his leg on a snowy mountain, was left to rot and die, but, through the effect of internally playing music in his brain, was able to follow leg movements with the rhythm which carried him to safety (again, a trick from his patients, music is what allows the 'jigger' possessed unfortunate patients to have coordinated movements - almost as if music has a mystifying force, a type of ghost which takes over motor planning regions. And he once squatted 600 pounds. "A curious fellow"

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