A physician from the United States, Joel Salinas, has the phenomenon of mirror touch, medically called synesthesia *. From childhood, the boy knew how to feel the sensations of other people, as his own, writes BBC.
“Basically, it’s a wiring in my brain because I physically feel the same way that other people do. For example, if you suffocate from lack of air, I also suffocate, if you have a panic attack, I do too,”Joel said.
The phenomenon of synesthesia has been manifested since childhood. The doctor recalls that at school he painted letters in different colors, and the ringing of the bell seemed blue or yellow. This approach helped the student to better navigate the spelling.
However, mathematics was more difficult.
“I didn’t take addition intuitively. My number 2 seemed like a red person with children, and 4 was a friendly blue guy. How, then, is two plus two equal to four? " - the boy wondered.
Peers avoided the unusual child, especially since the boy was constantly trying to hug someone. Touching people gave Joel a sense of warmth and calm. As a result, he was left alone, and his friends were replaced by the TV.
“When Skorokhod stuck out his tongue, I felt like I had stuck out mine. When Coyote was hit by a truck, I felt that too,”the boy recalls how the phenomenon made watching cartoons an exciting journey.
As a teenager, Joel realized that when people get well, he gets better too. So I decided to become a doctor.
In medical school, he faced injury and pain while observing a teenager on an operating table. Felt the incision made in the man's abdomen, and then saw the boy's internal organs and writhed in pain.
“The patient received a heart massage, and I felt a constriction in the chest, as if it were my body. After about 30 minutes, he died, and I felt devastated, after which I ran to the bath and vomited … I experienced a complete lack of physical sensations. It was terrible. It was like I was in a room with a loudly buzzing air conditioner - and suddenly it was turned off,”- described Joel's feelings after the patient's death.
After this incident, the man decided to defend himself and not react so openly. Joel noticed that the sensations were most intense when he was surprised or the person bore a physical resemblance to him.
“I was concentrating while looking at the sleeve or collar of the patient,” the doctor made it a rule not to look into the eyes.
Joel is a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. His abilities have helped save many patients.
In April 2018, the doctor released his third book on synesthesia. In his opinion, the phenomenon cannot be considered a mental disorder. This ability occurs in two out of a hundred people.
Despite the difficulties arising from the mirror touch, Joel can no longer imagine life without this gift.
“I don’t consider synesthesia to be a blessing or a curse, since it can be both. But I can't imagine life without it, because then I wouldn't be who I am,”says the doctor.
Scientists believe that humans are born with the ability to mirror touch. A recent study found that babies associate different shapes with different colors. However, with age, the brain eliminates unnecessary connections, and synesthesia disappears.
* Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which irritation in one sensory or cognitive system leads to an automatic, involuntary response in another sensory system. The person who reports such experiences is synesthetes.