Boston Doctor Can Physically Feel What Patients Feel

| by Michael Allen

Dr. Joel Salinas, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, physically feels what his patients feel.

“When I see people, I have the sensation of whatever touches their body on my own body as well and it’s kind of reflected like a mirror,” Salinas told CBS Boston.

Salinas has condition called "mirror touch synesthesia."

Pacific Standard Magazine noted in June that everyone has "mirror neurons" in their brains that are stimulated when they watch the actions of other people. These neurons map the physical actions of another person and create a similar sensation.

However, people who have mirror touch synesthesia feel these sensations so strongly that they sometimes have difficulty realizing it's not their sensation, but someone else's.

“When I was a kid, having these experiences where, you know, if I would see somebody hug I would feel the hug on myself or I would see someone get hit, I would feel kind of that sensation on myself as well,” Salinas told CBS Boston.

Salinas recalled an incident from his days in medical school.

“I remember one patient who unfortunately had an amputation of the arm from an accident. And I remember feeling as though my arm had been dismembered and I could feel the blood, very graphic,” Salinas said.

Salinas tries to focus his thoughts so he is not overwhelmed by the sensations that originate from others, but added:

I think it’s empowered me to really connect with my patients. It's like there’s kind of  a wall that gets kind of torn down when you feel a lot of the sensations that your patients feel as well. It’s almost like being aggressively put in somebody else’s shoes.

It’s part of who I am. It would be really weird not to have it.

Sources: CBS Boston, Pacific Standard Magazine / Photo Credit: CBS Boston Screenshot