Top positive review
The Neurological Quirk
Reviewed in the United States on February 2, 2019
An eighty-four-year-old relative was very recently having a weeks-long hallucination in which she was seeing the devil standing in front of her. She was convinced that it meant she was going to Hell. The elderly Catholic had also loss her appetite and was barely sleeping. My wife and I, who live in another city and had long ago abandoned Christianity for a reality-based lifestyle, understood she was having a hallucination but did not know how severe it was. To complicate matters, our immediate family members, who do live near her and are still very religious, believed Satan HAD possessed her. To help her, they resorted to many prayer sessions in the relative’s living room. Naturally, their religious hootenannies did not have ole Beelzebub hightailing it back to Fire-and-Brimstone Central. Finally the eighty-four-year-old was admitted into the hospital for observation because she was threatening to hurt her husband as well as commit suicide. She was much too weak to pull off either task. Heck, pealing a banana would’ve been a major accomplishment for her. The doctors eventually discovered she had a urinary tract infection. Once it was treated during a long stay at the hospital, her hallucination disappeared. The eight-four-year-old does not remember much of what occurred during her plight and the relatives still maintain that Satan had taken time out of his busy day to possess their relative. I guess if you’re selected from the over seven-billion people on Earth for Mr. Horns-n-Hooves extended time and attention, it’s kind of flattering. I was shocked that the infection could raise such havoc to a person’s system. It was why I decided to read Dr. Sack’s ‘Hallucinations.’ The author’s book helped to clarify a lot about the condition and then some.
Dr. Sacks keeps his book firmly planted in scientific observation and speculation. He explains how hallucinations have given rise to art, folklore, religions, and how Western stigmatization of the condition has caused many people to think they are going nuckin futz. The author does a good job of removing the social fear associated with having hallucinations. It is mostly written in layman terms but having a dictionary handy was helpful for me when looking up a handful of words and medical terms. The book is full of personal as well as clinical episodes. Dr. Sacks covers such topics as Charles Bonnet syndrome, how sensory deprivation can be a trigger, olfactory hallucinations, Parkinson’s disease, psychoactive substances, migraines, epilepsy, delirium, near-sleep hallucinations, narcolepsy, Lewy body disease (the late Robin Williams was a victim of it), post-traumatic episodes, death-bed hallucinations, religious visions, seeing your doppelganger, out-of-body and near-death experiences, and phantom limb sensation for amputees. Dr. Sacks does not delve into the evolution hypotheses for why our body reacts in such ways. This could be that while they do understand how the brain is triggered to show hallucinations, there is still much to learn. He also presents matter-of-fact scientific explanations about people who believe they’ve had religious experiences. If you are a believer in such godly interventions, you ain’t gonna like the author’s report.
The late Dr. Sacks was a highly intelligent, inquisitive, gentle man. You will find no sarcasm or denigration inside ‘Hallucinations.’ It is a thoughtful exploration of a very interesting field. The book ends quite abruptly and was disconcerting. Most nonfiction works I read have some sort of summation but not Dr. Sack’s book. Despite that very minor complaint, ‘Hallucinations’ is wonderful. I learned a lot from it and will certainly read other works by the guy. He makes learning fun and helps readers to feel more empathy for people with such episodes.