Throughout his life, Joel Salinas, MD, MBA, a behavioral neurologist at NYU Langone’s Center for Cognitive Neurology, has intensely felt the emotions of others, and even the physical effects of their illness. During his first rotation as a medical student, he experienced the physical sensations of a patient in cardiac arrest, including the sense of a breathing tube sliding down his own throat. After his colleagues were unable to resuscitate the patient, Dr. Salinas felt a total silence within himself. “I felt as if I had to will myself to breathe. I had to keep reminding myself that I didn’t die,” he says in this Vital Signs podcast.
Dr. Salinas was eventually diagnosed with synesthesia, a rare neurologic condition that causes an intermingling of the senses. The diagnosis provided relief and a name for the powerful feelings he’d always experienced—but also fear for how it would affect his interactions with patients.
Dr. Salinas has since harnessed his unique gift to help others through medical treatment. His profound empathy allows him to intuitively understand and connect with patients. “You can tell when someone genuinely cares about you,” he says. “And it makes a world of difference.”