Saturday, 14 December 2019

José Feliciano and Oliver Sacks

I wonder if you know Oliver Sacks's book A Leg To Stand On.

It's an interesting and illuminating exploration of neurological functioning, like all his work.

In this book, he explores how proprioception works, traced through his own experience of breaking his leg in a hill-walking accident.

He was in hospital for a while, then had to convalesce; during the recovery and rehabilitation, he lost the proprioception of his leg.

Proprioception is where your body recognises one of its parts as integral to the whole organism. When proprioception is lost, the nervous system rejects that body part as something that doesn't belong to you — a horrifically disconcerting experience. Sacks describes occasions where patients have discovered what they perceived as the leg of a cadaver in the bed with them, and tried to throw it out in disgust — only to find themselves inexplicably on the floor with it (since it was their own leg).

He describes how some people lose their body memory in this way, and can only do simple actions like drinking a cup of tea by conscious focus and effort. It really is a book that opens your eyes.

Sacks had a miserable time recovering from his accident; the physio sessions were challenging and his progress slow.

Then one day a friend came to visit him, bringing the gift of some recorded music (back then, a cassette tape for a Walkman, I imagine). It was a favourite — Mendelssohn, I think he said. gratefully and appreciatively, he listened to it. Then it was time to go for a physio session, where t his astonishment he found he progressed much better than usual.

The music continued to play in his consciousness during the physio session, facilitating the integration and healing of his nervous system. He began to get better.

He discovered by these means that the nervous system operates, as he put it, like a kinetic melody. Playing music supports it.

After I read that (some decades ago) I began to hum tunes to myself when I had to go into environments that tend to stress and fragment my nervous system — supermarkets, for example, or urban driving — by overwhelming levels of stimuli.

I found that some tunes and types of music particularly help and support my functioning in such environments. Schubert's Trout Quintet does the trick, and some rock and roll music — I think it's the strong rhythmic beat, that I experience as cheerfulness.

I've just discovered a new song to add to my Neurological Proprioception Playlist — José Feliciano's Feliz Navidad. As it's also seasonal, for your enjoyment — here it is.


Suzan said...

How I struggled with proprioception as a 19 year old at college. I grew to love the word and what it meant in the real world and the world of the deaf blind.

I love music. It is so soothing to me. When I was a child I loved to stay at my aunt's as she would play the moonlight son-of-a-nata for me. I would fall asleep washed in waves of music.

Terra said...

Oliver Sacks was a gifted man, and this is an interesting post. It makes sense that music helps. I have read several of his books.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Suzan — that's interesting! It seems that particular pieces of music are really helpful to us as individuals.

Hi Terra — Yes, I love his books. He was such a gifted communicator of some very complex ideas, and he saw things from a holistic perspective, which I appreciate.

Debi Peck said...

This same sort of disconnect happens with mental illness--individuals can lose the ability to perceive parts of themselves. Music can be absolutely instrumental (pun intended!) in helping reintegrate those lost parts. Music has such a unique way of bringing healing.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks, Debi — waving!