Encephalitis Lethargica Compared to the Movie Awakenings

Encephalitis lethargica is a rare disease which is an atypical form of encephalitis that can cause symptoms that range from headaches to coma like states. Other potential symptoms include things such as double vision, high fevers, lethargy, and delayed physical and mental reactions. The treatment of the illness was the main focus of the movie awakenings and the book it was based upon. The cause of the illness even today still remains much of a mystery with successful treatment also following suit, thankfully however since a large outbreak of the illness in the late 1960’s there have been very rare reported cases of the disease since.
When the movie Awakenings begins we find one of the main characters, Leonard Lowe, as a child. In the movie the viewer sees young Leonard begin to suffer from early symptoms of encephalitis lethargica, he quickly becomes unable to keep up in school and is taken out so he can be watched and also presumably to prevent the disease from potentially spreading. The movie then jumps to 1969 where the viewer is Dr. Sayer apply for a job in Bronx, his experience up to that point had been all research but the hospital being underemployed hires him anyways.
Dr. Sayer soon becomes determined to improve the quality of life for his patients and begins to look for a way to alleviate there illness, despite the skepticism of his peers. After investigating into several of his catatonic patients he finds out that many of them had suffered from encephalitis lethargica at one point or another in their past. Soon after discovering this Dr. Sayer proceeds to learn more about them by consulting a doctor who had treated many patients with the disease.

He learns that many patients who survived the outbreak would seem to have periods where they would appear to recover from the illness for a time but after an amount of time would fall back into a state of catatonia. Shortly after learning this probably due to the simple fact that the catatonic behavior of his patients was similar to that of Parkinson’s patients, he chooses to pursue the latest advances in Parkinson’s treatments.
He then attends a conference on Parkinson’s treatments, there Dr. Sayer first learns about Levodopa (also known as L Dopa) Sayer proposes that L Dopa should be tested as a treatment for one of his catatonic patients, his superiors express doubts that he will be successful but in the end agrees to let him proceed to try it on one patient. He selects Leonard Lowe to be treated with L Dopa. After some period of time Leonard awakens, after this success Dr.
Sayer then tries to lobby the patrons of the hospital for more funding to expand this treatment to other patients and after donations from staff members and after showing Leonard to the hospitals investors he gets the required funding and puts the rest of the patients on L Dopa. They, like Leonard, soon awaken after treatment and appear to all make a full recovery from their catatonic states.
It’s not long before Leonard begins to suffer side effects from L Dopa, he experiences convulsions, paranoia, and psychotic behavior which are all real symptoms of L Dopa treatment; Leonard also begins to build a tolerance to the drug and he soon has his symptoms of his illness slowly return. The rest of the patients ultimately experience the same course of events and eventually all return to a state of catatonia. The movie ends with Dr. Sayer giving a speech about what he learned from his patients.
The symptoms experienced by the patients and the side effects shown in the movie from L Dopa are extremely accurate with those experienced in real life, such as Leonard extreme emotional state and However the research Dr. Sayer, whose real name was Dr. Oliver Sacks, was similar but wasn’t exactly what occurred during the summer of 1969. Rather than starting the L Dopa treatment with just one patient and then expanding the treatment to the rest of the patients as was depicted in the film, Oliver Sacks actually began his study as a double blind procedure with a placebo group and with a treatment group.
He also originally intended to only let the study last for 90 days however once he saw that fifty percent of his patients were showing improvement, Sacks went ahead and began giving the rest of the patients L Dopa and dropped his 90 day window for the study. Within the film Dr. Sayer is depicted going from one patient to his whole group of patients, apart from this the movie appears to be completely in line with the events of real life. Works Cited Micromedex, Drug Information Provided By:. “Levodopa (Oral Route). ” Mayo Clinic.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 01 Nov. 2011. Web. 14 Feb. 2013. “Awakenings. ” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 14 Feb. 2013. “Side Effects of Carbidopa-Levodopa. ” Side Effects of Carbidopa-Levodopa. N. p. , n. d. Web. 14 Feb. 2013. “NINDS Encephalitis Lethargica Information Page. ” Encephalitis Lethargica Information Page: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). N. p. , n. d. Web. 14 Feb. 2013. “Awakenings. ” Oliver Sacks MD RSS. N. p. , n. d. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.

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