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Awakenings Essay, Research Paper

In the 1920’s, Leonard Lowe is a normal ten year old boy who is attacked by a mysteriously crippling disease. The onset of the disease manifests itself in periods of what I can only term suspended animation. At one moment, the victim is engaging in a normal activity, and at another he appears to be a living statue. Early in the disease, these periods of suspension last anywhere from a few moments to a few hours, and eventually, the victim is trapped seemingly forever in the statue phase. Only certain specific outside stimuli obtains a physical reaction, such as catching a ball or walking. When the movie begins, they show Leonard to us as a normal and seemingly healthy ten year old boy who is afflicted with the “sleeping sickness” disease that reached epidemic proportions during that specific era. Like many others who contracted this illness, Leonard and those like him were often misdiagnosed and eventually placed in mental hospital facilities because of their apparent vegetative state. Doctors who worked on the earlier cases believed the patients mental faculties to have been destroyed by the illness. Dr. Sayer (Dr. Oliver Sacks in real life) discovers that certain vegetative patients reacted to outside stimuli, such as a pattern on a floor, a tossed ball, or a television with a maladjusted vertical hold. Finally, Dr. Sayer comes across Leonard as a middle-aged man, some thirty years after he was originally afflicted with the disease. After doing some tests, the doctor comes to realize that there is brain activity and convinces his colleagues that further tests should be considered. He theorizes that a newly developed drug, L-Dopa, developed for the treatment of Parkinson’s patients may benefit these patients. He doses Leonard, with no initial success. Once again he theorizes that the acid in the Orange Juice, which he had been giving with the medicine may actually be neutralizing the effects of the drug. He tries once more with milk, and obtains some rather startling results. The drug has not only succeeded in obtaining a reaction from the patient, but seemingly it has brought him completely out of his “comatose” condition. The doctor discovers him in the patient’s lounge area coloring in a coloring book. Unfortunately for Leonard, he is completely unaware that he is no longer ten years old. What Dr. Sacks discovered is what we today call Tourette’s Syndrome. Tourette’s Syndrome is an inherited, neurological disorder characterized by repeated and involuntary body movements (tics) and uncontrollable vocal sounds. In a small amount of cases, the vocalizations can include socially inappropriate words and phrases — called coprolalia. These outbursts are neither intentional nor purposeful. Involuntary symptoms can included eye blinking, repeated throat clearing or sniffing, arm thrusting, kicking movements, shoulder shrugging or jumping. These and other symptoms typically appear before the age of 18 and the condition occurs in all ethnic groups with males affected 3 to 4 times more often than females. Although the symptoms of TS vary from person to person and range from very mild to severe, the majority of cases fall into the mild category. Associated conditions can include obsessivity, attention problems and impulsiveness.

Most people with TS lead productive lives and participate in all professions. For example, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (formerly Chris Jackson) is the leading free throw shooter in the NBA. A guard on the Denver Nuggets, he came to the NBA from Louisiana State University where he was an instant sensation, scoring 48 points in his third game. Abdul-Rauf is featured in an independent documentary “Twitch & Shout” produced by two film makers with TS. It is said that Mahmoud’s obsessive-compulsive TS traits are the reason for his unbelievable proficiency at the foul line. Increased public understanding and tolerance of TS symptoms are of paramount importance to people with Tourette Syndrome. Before Tourette’s Syndrome was recognized as a disease, the effects could be as bad as Leonard s. The early effects of this disease included living as a statue and only moving when approached by specific stimuli. This is the form of Tourette Syndrome depicted with in the movie Awakenings. The tics associated with Tourette’s Syndrome can cause a extreme amount of psychological problems such as feelings of being an outcast, thoughts of suicide and much worse. Perhaps you’re riding a bus and you notice that the man next to you is blinking constantly and with exaggeration for no apparent reason. Maybe you’re in the video store and a woman choosing a film begins to yelp like a dog. Or you’ve sat down in a movie theater and a man two rows back spontaneously and frighteningly spouts profanities at no one in particular. The tics are associated with misbehavior and kids are often labeled bad . This can cause immense psychological harm to this child, if the child has yet to be diagnosed. Even adults with undiagnosed TS can run into trouble. Only a few years ago, major league baseball player Jim Eisenreich’s career nearly ended because of unrecognized TS. With help, he has gone on to have a very successful baseball career. We have to be accepting [of people with TS], rather than rejecting them from society. We must give them the opportunity to see health-care professionals skilled in neurobehavioral disorders rather than classifying what they have as ‘mental illness,’ which limits benefits and access to providers. We have to make reasonable accommodations for them in school and at work. If you meet a person with Tourette’s syndrome, it is recommended that you think of him/her as if he/she has a bad stutter. Simply wait for the tics to resolve, then continue conversation in a normal way. Just ignore the expletives or activity and converse as you normally would. If it’s intended as an insult, it will continue as a well-structured insult. Complex tics usually don’t have that much structure and sound more like someone venting in frustration.


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