Have a Story to Tell? Had a medical error?

This blog is about patient safety, medical malpractice, staying healthy, and preventing future errors. Help & empower someone else, Teach a lesson, Bear witness, Build our community - Email us or call 781-444-5525.

Frustrated with a health problem?

Need an ally in your health crisis? Call 781-444-5525, or learn more.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

When I play, it feels like a massage: Synesthesia as an adverse drug reaction

Prof. Sherrilyn Roush woke up one morning seven years ago to discover that the left side of her body had gone numb, with a stroke. The day before, she had taken a prescription decongestant with ingredients that were suspected of causing strokes in young women. The decongestant had caused a lesion the size of a lentil in her mid-brain. Five months later, the Food and Drug Administration took the drug off the market.

Sherrilyn did not realize that her stroke would lead to sensations that few people had ever experienced. She began to feel tingling on her body in response to sounds. Today, more than ever, she feels sounds on her skin.

The first time it happened, she heard the voice of an announcer on a local FM station. "I felt an unpleasant sensation on my left thigh, left arm, the back of my shoulder and even the outside of my left ear. It was the kind of icky feeling that uniformly washes over you at a scary movie,"she said. "I had to stop listening. It made me cringe."

Psychologists at Rice University have tested her over the last seven years, observing how her brain's wiring has reorganized. Their article appears in the November issue of Annals of Neurology. They call her brain’s odd mixing of the senses "acquired synesthesia," and attribute the rewiring to the stroke.

Some sounds set her teeth on edge. Others evoke pleasant feelings on her skin. The soft sound of water bubbling is "soothing, almost like a massage on my skin."

Recently, she learned how to exploit her oddly mixed up senses. "I took up the string bass," she said. "Most people get pleasure from this instrument. It is huge. It has a soft deep sound. But I get more pleasure from this instrument, right here in my left arm. When I play, it feels like a massage."

She has learned to exploit the effects of her condition, in a way reminiscent of patients whom the neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks described in "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat." Indeed, Sacks found that music had an exceptional power to help that severely disabled man to anchor himself in the world.

Advice to people who are greatly affected by their disease: Look for innovative ways to make the best of your disease, as Sherrilyn has.

Browse for related stories in the index at the very bottom of this page, or read a story of a patient-entrepreneur who made the best of her disease.

Thanks to Sandra Blakeslee for the source article in the Dec. 25 issue of the NY Times.

No comments: