Meeting My Hero, Dr. Oliver Sacks

by julie on July 20, 2013

“Writing is better than morphine.”

-Dr. Oliver Sacks

This week, I had the opportunity to attend a book event with Dr. Oliver Sacks at Sixth & I in Washington, DC. Dr. Sacks discussed his recent book, Hallucinations – which includes a chapter on narcolepsy’s hypnagogic hallucinations

Dr. Sacks explained, “Hallucinations are high-jacking your perceptual system… You can create colors that don’t exist in real life. Hear songs that you’ve never heard before. Your imagination goes as far as possible, using parts of the brain that aren’t usually active.” 

After the presentation, Dr. Sacks signed books on-stage. I waited nervously with my friend Gail for our turn. What would I say? With over 300 people in line, I clearly wasn’t Dr. Sacks’ only super-fan. 

For me, Dr. Sacks is the man – the person I’d most like to have a conversation with in the entire world. Four years ago, my dear friend Lexie recommended The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat as I began working on my narcolepsy memoir. My life was changed.

As a person with an invisible neurological disorder – Dr. Sacks’ writing was validating. As a writer myself – his words gave me courage.  Dr. Sacks inspired me to tell it like it was – hallucinations, cataplexy and all – no matter how “crazy” it may sound to outsiders.

Finally, I approached the signing table and Gail got the camera ready to take pictures.

I blurted out, “Hi Dr. Sacks! I have narcolepsy with cataplexy.” (No time for small talk.)

“You do?” He looked up from signing my book. 

“Yes, and I recently wrote a narcolepsy memoir…” 

“Oh yes, what’s it called?” 

“Wide Awake and Dreaming.” 

“Yes, that’s it. It’s next in my pile to read. I’m reading slower these days, but it’s very next.” 

Dr. Sacks handed me my signed book with a smile. I shuffled off-stage mumbling nonsensically. I forgot to thank him for inspiring me. My hands trembled. Did Oliver Sacks really just say he’s going to read my book? A few months ago, I’d sent him my book on a whim – but had no expectations.

Thank you to my amazing friend Gail for inviting me to this event. Meeting Dr. Sacks was a surreal moment I will cherish forever.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Gail Pean July 21, 2013 at 12:11 am

My pleasure Julie. What a fascinating author and inspiration to everyone interested in the brain and how we think, dream, hallucinate. behave and why.
A few of my favorite quotes from Dr. Sacks and I may be paraphrasing are:
“Writing is better than morphine”
“The brain can create anything including god.”
“Consciousness is the greatest form of brain activity”
“A beautiful hypothesis can be slain by a fact.”

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julie July 21, 2013 at 12:22 am

Thank you so much, Gail!

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Jill January 4, 2014 at 3:05 am

I read his “Man Who…” book as well as “Seeing Voices”. Fascinating!!! 🙂 So happy for you!

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jeanette barnett February 14, 2015 at 2:02 am

Thank you, Julie for your Wide Awake and Dreaming. I, too have Narcolepsy and was in Dr. Sack’s Hallucination book. Your writing about your narcolepsy inspired me to write a memoir for my family of my early days in life long narcolepsy. I’ve entitled it Shouting Glory, Glory, Glory: Memoir of a Narcoleptic P.K. (My father was a preacher thus I’m a P.K.). I kind of took off on the old saying: “Doctors’ kids are the sickest, Preachers’ Kids the Meanest, and the Cobblers’ Kids Have No Shoes”. You’ll never see my memoir in print (even if that were possible, because I wrote it for my children/grandchildren to help explain why I’m the way I was, and the way I am. My first hallucination was at age 3. I’m 81 and many who know me do not even know I have narcolepsy. I’m not ashamed; but very private, and do not like to talk about myself. (Do I protest too much, for I’m writing to you?). Thank you for writing about your narcolepsy. I, too, am an avid fan of Oliver Sacks and his books. I know there must be many others who found your book beneficial. You write well and should definitely write more, if you haven’t. I have your book on my Kindles.
And thank you for sharing your Dr. Sacks experience! I wish he would come to St. Louis!

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