MB Reed

Author and mathematician


Footnotes for Chapters 1-2

Hospital Diary I

  1. “The anamnestic powers of L-Dopa…”: The passage quoted by Dr Jones is in footnote 136 of Awakenings by Oliver Sacks (see notes to Hospital Diary 2, below).

  2. The patient nicknamed Pelé is based on patients with this ability described in footnote 14 of Awakenings, in particular one at Highlands Hospital who was nicknamed Puskas after a famous footballer of the time.

Chapter 1: Home from Dublin

  1. The airship service from Durban to Croydon: see a history of the Imperial Airship Programme, which includes a map of proposed routes spanning the British Empire.

  2. A smoking room was indeed a feature of large airships such as the Hindenburg. This video shows the interior of the Hindenburg airship, the promenade and the angled observation windows.

  3. “Twenty five thousand of us there were…”: The Seige of Tobruk lasted from April 10 until November 27 1941. In our world, Bob would probably have been one of the 6,000 casualties among the British, Australian and Polish defenders. When the garrison finally surrendered, over 2,500 men were taken prisoner. The commander reported back to London that it was ‘situation shambles’.

Hospital Diary II

  1. The 1918-20 ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic (so-called because wartime censors suppressed reports of mass deaths in Britain, the USA, France and Germany, but allowed reports of its effects in neutral Spain) is now thought to have killed up to 100 million people worldwide. It has been described as ‘the greatest medical holocaust in history’; half the population of the world was affected. It has been theorised that the H1N1 ‘bird flu’ virus also caused the contemporaneous epidemic of encephalitis lethargica.

  2. The ‘sleepy sickness’ or encephalitis lethargica epidemic first appeared in Vienna in 1916. Nearly five million people were affected, a third of whom died in the acute stages. There is speculation that Hitler may have had the disease in his twenties. Many of those who survived never returned to normality, but displayed post-encephalitic Parkinsonism. “They would be conscious and aware - yet not fully awake; they would sit motionless and speechless all day in their chairs, totally lacking energy, impetus, initiative, motive, appetite, affect or desire; they registered what went on about them without active attention, and with profound indifference. They neither conveyed nor felt the feeling of life; they were as insubstantial as ghosts, and as passive as zombies”. The quote is from page 14 of the book Awakenings (1973, revised 1990, Picador) written by Dr Oliver Sacks, a consultant neurologist on the post-encephalitic ward at Mount Carmel Hospital in New York.

  3. “A consultant called Oliver Sacks”: In 1969 Dr Sacks began experiments in administering large doses of lavevodihydroxyphenylalanine, or L-Dopa to his patients, to create the dopamine which was deficient in their brains. He described their recovery (and subsequent relapse) in “Awakenings”. The book was the basis of the 1982 play A Kind of Alaska by Harold Pinter, and was fictionalised in the 1990 film Awakenings, starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. In his recent book Hallucinations (2013, Vintage) Sacks describes his own experiences with hallucinogenic drugs. Sacks died in 2015: see his obituary.

  4. “Drunk on reality”: Sacks uses the phrase about patient Leonard L. Like Hugh, he loved going out in the hospital garden, and began to keep a diary.

  5. “Over here, Dr Sharkey…”: The Highlands Hospital’s Wikipedia entry links to an obituary of Joseph Sharkey, the consultant who also achieved Awakenings with L-Dopa. In footnote 28 of his book, Sacks favourably compares the relaxed, caring atmosphere of the Highlands Hospital ward with the institutional drabness at Mount Carmel. He also notes the affectionate use of the term ‘enkies’.

  6. “A hospital in California”: The young patients in California are mentioned in footnote 151 of “Awakenings”.

  7. “akinesia, bradyphrenia…”: These definitions are taken from the Glossary of terms provided in Awakenings:

    • Catalepsy: effortless maintenance of statuesque postures for long periods of time, while appearing mentally enthralled.
    • Brachyphrenia: slowness of mental processes.
    • Akinesia: total absence of voluntary movement.
    • Torticollis: asymmetric spasm of the neck muscles, forcing the head to one side.
    • Athetosis: involuntary writhing movements of the face, tongue and extremities.

Chapter 2: Arrival in Britain

  1. The Aerodrome Hotel, Croydon is now a member of the Hallmark Hotels chain.

  2. The Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics was established in 1907 at University College London (UCL). It was renamed the Galton Laboratory in 1963. There is currently controversy over whether to erase Galton’s name from university buildings.

  3. Borough High St: The MI6 training centre in London was at 296-302 Borough High St, SE1 until 1996. Investigative journalist Duncan Campbell published a report on Big Brother’s many mansions in The New Statesman in February 1980.

  4. “Ask to speak to Oliver”: Dr Oliver Sacks spent the summer of 1969 at his parents’ house in Hampstead, writing the first drafts of Awakenings.