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A review of Anthropologist on Mars

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I read A Surgeon’s Life in the book An Anthropologist on Mars. I was astounded by some of the features of the story and what exactly it detailed. The piece was about a surgeon who was well recognized and respected in the community he lived in, but there was something different about him. It wasn’t a certain degree he had, or a spectacular discovery he had made during his career; nor was it anything that made him a better doctor than any other in the region. His difference was that he was a surgeon with Tourette’s syndrome.

Tourette’s syndrome can be characterized by convulsive tics, by involuntary mimicry or repetition of others’ words or actions, and by the involuntary or compulsive utterances or curses and obscenities. It also can consist of a constant testing of physical and social boundaries; a relentless, agitated reaction to the environment, a lunging at and sniffing everything around, or a sudden flinging of objects. So, how on earth could a surgeon, who must perform such delicate, precise work have such a disorder? Well, it’s possible, just ask Doctor Carl Bennett from Branford, British Columbia. Dr. Bennett could do anything that any typical person could do. He could drive, raise a family and be a successful professional. Oliver Sacks quickly found out though that Dr. Bennett’s life was so unbelievably unique because of the amazing fact that he was a full blown tourette and also able to perform such great surgery.

To study Dr. Bennett’s behavior, Sacks was invited to say with the Bennett family for months so that he could get the best understanding of how he lived his spectacular life. Sacks found that Dr. Bennett would skip on every fifth step when he walked, and suddenly reach to the ground, as if he was picking something up, but yet pick up nothing. He also found that he would have obsessive touching of his glasses and mustache. “His mustache had to be constantly smoothed and checked for symmetry , his glasses had to be ‘balanced’ -up and down, side to side, diagonally , in and out -with sudden, ticcy touchings of the fingers, until these, too were exactly ‘centered’.”(81 Sacks)

While Sacks stayed with Dr. Bennett he learned that Bennett was an adopted child leaving him unaware if anyone in his family had this syndrome as well. The behavior genetics, as we spoke of in class, of this pattern can not be determined well because he did not ever know his parents. Since forty to sixty percent of all behavior is related to genetics, it is a very good possibility that Bennett’s’ family carried the trait as well.

Although he had all these abnormalities, he made up for them in the operating room. While the Dr. would “scrub up”, Sacks noticed that he made the same ticking, jolting motions, and shouting as always, but as soon as he got down to business, he changed. Not one tick during the whole surgery and the surgery lasted for two and one half hours. Dr. Bennett claims that while he is performing surgery it never even runs through his mind that he has tourettes syndrome. He claims that, “His whole identify at such time is that of a surgeon at work and his entire psychic and neural organization becomes aligned with this, becomes active, focused, at ease, un-tourettic.”(96 Sacks)

I think that Dr. Bennett is a very unique person, not only because of his syndrome, but because of the way that he handles it and can perform such amazing tasks that require so much concentration and precise accuracy. I feel that he has proved to himself and the world that nothing should hold you back from what you want. He wanted to be a surgeon, and along the way, came hell or high water, he did it.

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