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In the “Black Mirror” it ended badly: an American doctor feels the pain of patients because of a rare syndrome

Joel Salinas. @joelsalinasmd

The doctor from the USA Joel Salinas (Joel Salinas) has a synaesthesia and literally feels the pain of patients. A similar skill was possessed by the doctor of one of the series of the “Black Mirror”, but for him it ended badly.

As in the series “The Black Museum”

Released at the end of 2017, the fourth season of the “Black Mirror” ended with an episode called “The Black Museum”. In a series of 70 minutes, all the latest episodes in the form of Easter eggs were mentioned: lollipop from USS Callister or a tablet from Arkangel.

At the beginning of the series, the museum curator and former neuroscientist tells the story of Dr. Peter Dawson, who, according to his advice, agreed to embed a chip in his head. When the patient was put on the transmitter’s head, the doctor began to feel everything that the patient felt. First, it facilitated Dawson’s work and diagnosis, and also improved sexual life with the girl due to the fact that he felt an orgasm for two.

A child comes in, it hurts, doctors suspect appendicitis and show Dawson for confirmation. By this time he already knew how appendicitis hurts, and realized if it was not him. He found those diseases that they did not even look for. This man saved lives.

the museum curator in the “Black Mirror”
Shot from the series “The Black Museum”

However, soon the situation got out of control: Dawson was brought in by a senator who lost consciousness at the reception. The doctor was trying to find out what was wrong with him, but he felt only great pain, and then, when the senator died, disconnected for several minutes. It turned out that the patient was poisoned with “rare Russian poison”.

After this incident, Dawson’s chip, in response to the pain of the patients, gave him only pleasant sensations, because of which the doctor constantly wanted someone near him to suffer. The doctor “clung” to seriously ill patients, and then, when he was removed, began to cut himself. As a result, Dawson decided to kill the homeless, he was arrested, and left in an eternal coma.

Synaesthesia instead of a chip in my head

Joel Salinas does not have any implants, but since childhood he has an unusual frustration of perception – a mirror synesthesia. Thanks to her, he feels the same as the surrounding people – his brain recreates pain, touch or even the behavior of others.

In fact, it is a failure in the wiring of my brain, because I physically feel the same as other people. For example, if you are suffocating from lack of air, I, too, suffocate, if you have a panic attack, I, too.

Joel Salinas
doctor with mirror synesthesia
Joel Salinas with his mother. CNN Photos

Synaesthesia is a neurological condition in which several senses merge. People with this syndrome can see the color of numbers, feel the taste of music and distinguish shades of light from touching other people. But the case of Salinas is especially unique.

According to the doctor’s recollections, at school he tried to paint letters in certain colors, but, for example, the bell sounded like blue and yellow. Thanks to such associations, he better memorized the numbers and was guided in spelling. But with Salinas arithmetic there were problems: the figures seemed to him to be men with children, so he did not understand how they could be added or multiplied.

The first case of synaesthesia with a mirror image was discovered in 2005. Much of this is due to the structural imaging of MRI and the study of brain cells and their response to the surrounding world.

In his teens, Salinas found it difficult to communicate with peers, because he was extremely friendly, loved human emotions and especially embraces. He began to watch TV more often, because he felt the same as the characters on the screen: “When the Road Runner put out his tongue on the run, I felt that I stuck out my tongue when the coyote got under the truck, I was given it too.”

Career Doctor

Soon, Joel Salinas realized that when other people get better, he also feels better. According to him, the synaesthesia helped to realize that a career should be associated with medicine. Even about his special state, he learned already while studying, when one of the students told about people who feel the colors of letters.

But it did not help Salinas to protect himself from the traumatic experience during his studies, because he repeatedly encountered diseases and physical traumas in patients. The doctor watched the boy on the operating table, who had a cut on his stomach, felt pain and felt a “burning and wriggling sensation,” looking at his internal organs. Once Salinas first encountered the patient’s death.

The patient was given a heart massage right in front of me, I felt compression in the chest, as if it were my body. After about 30 minutes he died, and I felt desolate, then ran to the bath and I vomited.

Joel Salinas
doctor with mirror synesthesia
CNN Photos

After this incident, Salinas developed rules for himself. He noticed an exacerbation of his feelings, if the patient was outwardly similar to him or made sudden movements. For concentration, he does not look at the patients in the eye and focuses on clothing, and when you need to clarify the diagnosis, just looks at their body. Now the doctor is much easier to work with and do not feel discomfort at the same time.

According to the doctor, not all people with synaesthesia were lucky to find their place. For example, one woman prefers not to communicate with people and live in isolation, so as not to feel the pain, suffering and emotions of others. Many synesthetics take week-long breaks to communicate with friends and family, as they “choke” with the feelings of other people.

Now Dr. Joel Salinas works as a neurologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and is lecturing at Harvard Medical School. In April, out of his book “The Mirror touch” in which he says, including the symptoms mirror synesthesia observed his sister and mother, just not as much as he has.

My feature can blur the boundaries between me and others to such an extent that I will be inextricably entangled in the feelings and needs of people, that is, I will completely lose myself. How much I remember myself, in my mind constantly accumulated information.

I could create a psychological filter for self-defense, but this is a dangerous way to survive. If I filter too much, I risk completely lose my feelings and, as a result, lose humanity and empathy. And if I filter too little, I can drown in another person and lose all sanity, and then myself.

Joel Salinas
doctor with mirror synesthesia
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