Su BBC Stories, Claire Bates racconta la storia di un medico che si “scopre” sinestetico e che deve imparare a gestire la sua iperempatia, una condizione neurologica che interessa l’1,6 per cento della popolazione
Joel Salinas rushes in to the hospital bathroom and throws up until he’s dry heaving. Washing his face, the third-year medical student stares at his pale reflection in the mirror and wills himself to live.
He doesn’t know it yet, but Salinas has a condition called mirror-touch synaesthesia. Any time he sees someone experience pain, or even just the sense of touch, his brain recreates the sensations in his own body. And on this day in 2008 he has just watched someone die.
“Someone had a cardiac arrest and it completely caught me off guard,” he says.
“I saw them getting chest compressions and I could feel my back on the linoleum floor and the compressions on my own chest. I felt the breathing tube scraping down the back of my throat.”
When the patient was declared dead 30 minutes later Salinas experienced an “eerie silence”.
“I had this complete absence of physical sensations. It was so haunting. It was like being in a room with an air conditioner and suddenly it was switched off,” he says.
He escaped to the bathroom where he reassured himself he wasn’t dead – and vowed he wouldn’t let himself react so strongly again.