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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Can't You Hear It?

George Carlin once skewered the subtle differences between "sick" and "don't feel well." When you are "sick" people leap to action and surgeons come in on their day off to operate. When you "don't feel well" you are simply a pain to everyone around you.

What I have been experiencing these past few months is the latter.

Between my occasional vision changes, pinpricks of light, brain shocks, light sensitivity, disorientation episodes and aversion to avian annoyances I am the walking poster boy of "don't feel well." I exude a general malaise but no one really knows what to do with me. By the time I see a doctor my symptoms have gone away and I am advised to keep resting, to keep healing and to try to stay the course.

Now there is something new. Again. Another strange occurrence to add to the list. I am hoping for comments because—for once—Google turns up nothing. Here's what happened:

MJ practices her classical guitar every afternoon. I like this instrument and often I will plant myself on the couch in the next room on purpose, writing while she plays. It is a lovely sound. Yesterday, when she was done, we sat together so we could talk about the rest of the day.

"Do you hear that?" I asked her suddenly.

"Hear what?" she replied.

"Someone is still playing guitar. Come on, can't you hear that?"

"Ale, I'm RIGHT HERE. How can you hear guitar music? We're deep in the woods."

I stood and walked to the doorway where I heard the music. "Can't you hear it?"


I was frustrated. I stood in slightly different spots, seeing if it was the wind or something else. "No, it's definitely a guitar," I said. "It's you playing, but softly. You're not playing guitar right now?"

She gave me a confused look, turing her palms up slightly and looking into her empty lap.

I asked, "There's not a recording going? Did you record yourself and it's still playing?"


"I can't believe you can't hear this. Are you sure you're not playing right now?"

"Ale . . ."

The guitar music played on, softly and peacefully. It was not the same thing as when a tune gets stuck in your head. This was different. The sound was outside of me, playing somewhere. I wanted to find it.

MJ said, "Why don't we sit on the porch for a bit? You can relax."

We went out on the porch. It was windy and loud but the temperature was nice. I sat and closed my eyes. The guitar music resumed.

"You don't hear that?"


"Oh come on. It's just off in the distance. A guitar."

She looked up from her book. "I promise you I don't hear it."


I sat up and examined the sky. A ray of sunlight caught my eye. Instinctively, I shut my eyes because lately I have been more sensitive to light.

Ping! A plucked guitar chord rang very loudly as I closed my eyes. This surprised me, so I blinked my eyes three times in a row as I tried to clear my head. Ping! Ping! Ping! Three more guitar chords, all the same.

I sat back again and looked at my wife. "That was weird."


"I think it's the light. Or some of my facial muscles. When I blink, I hear a chord."

I tried it some more. Blink, blink, blink, blink. ("Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping!") Interesting.

For the next hour I tried to fill my head with something else so I worked through the Wall Street Journal acrostic puzzle. The music stopped at some point but I still shake my head at how the whole incident was so strange. I was not using abstract thought to conjure music I had once heard. I do that all the time. This music was actually sounding somewhere and I was hearing it, although I know this is impossible.

Add this to the laundry list of other strange symptoms that come and go. Maybe somewhere out there George Carlin is strumming a guitar, laughing at yet another person who isn't quite "sick" but just "doesn't feel well."


  1. That IS interesting. Sort of like hitting replay in your brain and hearing it all over again outside your head? Lyndsay has the vision things once in awhile, but so far nothing like you describe today. Seems like a thing (for lack of a better word) between your ears and your brain... looping or on repeat?

    Donna B

  2. Have you read about seizures with auditory features? Here was one site I read on it:

    Donna B

  3. And here is an excerpt of another report, found at, :

    "Variable inclusion of hallucinations and illusions prob- ably accounts for the conflicting results in the literature on the lateralizing value of complex auditory auras (Pen- field and Perot, 1963). Verbal hallucinations seemed to lateralize for the dominant hemisphere in our series, and this would be coherent with lateralization of language au- ditory functions on the left side (Tervianemi and Hug- dahl, 2003). In addition, seizure origin was located on the dominant hemisphere in the one patient with musi- cal aura. A recent review of all cases of musical hal- lucinations concluded that the role of laterality was un- clear, emphasizing the difficulty of defining hemispheric dominance in music perception, as it depends on individ- ual musical experience and education (Evers and Ellger, 2004). Interestingly, two of our patients, both skilled mu- sicians, referred that a specific piece of music could pro- voke their auditory seizures (simple hallucinations). The fact that musicogenic seizures are more common in pa- tients well educated for music has already been reported (Wieser, 2004)."

    Ok, I'll stop already.

    Donna B

  4. Goodness - thank you Donna! This is great stuff. I think perhaps it was a complex auditory aura. It seems to fit. THANK YOU for all that research. I will do some reading and also see what my neurologist says about that. My very best to you.

  5. Gee, I think Oliver Sacks would be interested in what you are experiencing. Have you read his book, "Musicophilia"? It's fascinating. He talks about his experiences with people with various music "afflictions" ... sometimes due to brain damage of some sort, some just due to who they are and how their particular brains work. He does have people who hear music that isn't there. Some hear it quite strongly. One woman kept going to her window to look for the band (or some group; I read it a while back).

    I do encourage you to read his book. It might have some clues or answers.