The movie “Awakenings” was about a group of post-encephalitic patients – a condition now referred to as encephalitis lethargica-  who were in a catatonic state.

A doctor “Malcolm Sayer” comes along and he introduces them to a new breakthrough drug that relieves their illness and allows them to be normal again. This movie was actually a really good representation of what actually happened, however there were some flaws in the story and portrayals. The real doctor’s name is Oliver Sacks, and when he had begun his study, he began it as a double blind study with one group being a placebo and the other being the treatment group. The movie shows that he directly gave one patient the drug and then after seeing its effects he gave it to a big group of patients. This movie also doesn’t portray how bad the side effects of L-DOPA were, with symptoms ranging from erratic movements, to appetites for sex and food. The movie also shows that all of the patients loved the drug and were super happy, however in real life there were patients who refused anymore treatment because they couldn’t handle the changing times, and also losing their dignity. In the movie the patients just became normal again and had no problems until they began to relapse, however that just wasn’t the case.

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The patients were being treated for a condition that is now referred to as encephalitis lethargica. Around the 1920’s there was a huge outbreak of encephalitis, which later put people in this catatonic state that they couldn’t escape from with symptoms such as bradykinesia, rigidity, and loss of autonomic movements. Doctor Sacks realized that these symptoms were very similar to those of parkinson’s and he realized that he could try and use parkinson’s medication to treat this unknown disease. The doctors believed that this treatment was working because the patients began to wake up from their sleep and become semi-normal people aside from all of the side effects. They were finally able to communicate with these people who were silent for so long, and receive much needed feedback. Some patients even began to sing and dance, one lady was referred to as doing a flapper dance, and reminiscing about the 1920’s. Considering that parkinson’s disease is caused because patients have a little bit of dopamine, the whole point of L-dopa was that it could be metabolized as dopamine and it could cross the blood brain barrier.

Doctors believed that since the diseases were so similar that the medicine was bound to work as well, which it did. I do see some major differences in healthcare from then and now, just considering the fact that we’ve come so far along technologically, and we’ve made so many breakthrough discoveries. In the past half century so many great medications, cures, and treatments have been produced that have saved the lives of many people, and prevented many people from getting sick. In the old days, we were left in the dark and didn’t know much about diseases, their origins, or how to treat them, but now with all of the great technology we have acquired, we have come to know more and more about those types of things. I also believe that preventative medicine has become more prevalent, which is great because it’s better to stop something before it happens, then to try and treat it when it’s almost too late.