A Boston neurologist reflects on his remarkable ability to experience the same physical sensations as those found in his patients.
Harvard-trained clinical researcher Salinas explains his experiences as a polysynesthete and how this uncanny sensory-overlapping capability continues to affect his patient care practice. This kind of extrasensory awareness is most commonly found in artists, the author writes, and encompasses many different incarnations, such as grapheme-color, ordinal linguistic personification, and mirror-touch synesthesia. “I can perceive motion as sound, music as color, taste as shape as well as a wide variety of other exotic manifestations,” he writes. Salinas notes that he can also detect sensations even when not facing a living person—e.g., muscle tension in his neck or arm strain when looking at the statue of David or Lady Liberty. His book, however, focuses mainly on how the “living labor” of this neurologic phenomenon both directly enhances and personally distracts him in his personal life and medical practice. Salinas nimbly retraces his history back to a Miami childhood in which vivid colors appeared on random images, like “memories of color, firework trails in the tight spaces between the solid lines,” and even things like getting dressed for school became a tactile challenge. Intensive research on synesthesia, connections with others like him, and the eventual acceptance of his abilities opened the door for romantic relationships and an unparalleled and riveting learning experience throughout medical school, even though he continued to physically feel the pain of his patients. Following a chronicle of his challenging psychiatry residency in Massachusetts, Salinas presents remarkable medical cases that reflect the humanity and sensitivity his condition engenders, particularly through ordeals with an autistic child and a stroke victim. Vicarious and enthralling, Salinas’ memoir draws on a trove of intimate personal (both triumphant and heartbreaking) memories and thoughtful patient care experiences to effectively explain his life as a complex, sense-heightened man.
A rich, fascinating portrait of extraordinary sensory awareness.