By restoring narrative to a central place in the practice of medicine, Sacks has regrafted his profession to its roots. Before the science of medicine thought of itself as a science, at the crux of the healing arts was an exchange of stories. The patient related a confusing odyssey of symptoms to the doctor, who interpreted the tale and recast it as a course of treatment. The compiling of detailed case histories was considered an indispensable tool of physicians from the time of Hippocrates. It fell into disrepute in the 20th century, as lab tests replaced time-consuming observation, merely “anecdotal” evidence was dismissed in favor of generalizable data, and the house call was rendered quaintly obsolete.
...By exiling the clinical anecdote to the margins of medical practice—to stories passed down in hallways from attending physician to resident—the culture of medicine had blinded itself, forgetting things it had once known. Sacks calls these knowledge gaps “scotomas,” the clinical term for blind spots or shadows in the field of vision.
...Sacks immersed himself in the neglected anecdotal literature of migraine, feeling that every one of his patients “opened out into an entire encyclopedia of neurology.”