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Radiolab Live: Tell-Tale Hearts featuring Oliver Sacks

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Jad & Robert on stage at BAM (Photo Credit: Matthew Septimus)

A few days ago Radiolab performed a live show and this episode we're bringing you a few of the highlights. They were stories of what motivates us, our drives, our loves and losses. Producer Molly Webster tells us the story of life, near-death and what happens when your heart starts to work against you. And we visit with Dr. Oliver Sacks one last time to reflect on his life, his loves and his endless sense of wonder.

Special thanks to our musical guests, SO Percussion and Sarah Lipstate


Dr. Oliver Sacks

The Heartbeat

Summer Ash found that after fighting for a healthy heart, her heart started fighting her in ways she hadn't expected.

Comments [114]

Dr. Sacks Looks Back

A final conversation, after more than 30 years of them, with Dr. Oliver Sacks.

Comments [35]

Comments [82]

Gabe L from Cambridge, MA


What is the song at around 41:20. She says "There's a home by the.."

Thank you!!

P.S. Curious to know the age, gender, nationality of people who feel sick and if that plays a role in it.

Oct. 28 2016 01:29 PM
Danielle from California

I was scrolling through your podcasts and chose this one randomly, without looking at the subject of the show. It could not have been a better choice for me. Summer's story has brought me an immense amount of peace, just knowing that I'm not alone. I had open heart surgery at 40 to remove a large benign tumor. Unfortunately the tumor had wrapped around my superior Vena Cava and it was removed and replaced with a synthetic material and my pericardium was removed. One month later I had a 'Re-do' surgery due to scarring and clotting and my SVC was replaced with a leg vein. I, too, experience the ever-present sound of my own heart. Lying in bed at night I was certain there was a car with loud bass beats going back and forth for hours. It used to cause me so much anxiety. While I hated hearing it, I was more concerned about hearing it stop, and constantly worrying that I would hear something go wrong within my own body. I heard the warning at the beginning of the podcast, but oddly I felt very comfortable with the heartbeat at the end. It felt very much like listening to my own and it actually brought a lot of closure to the mental and physical challenges I have faced since my surgery. Thank you for sharing Summer's story, it was a worthwhile listen.

Apr. 09 2016 06:41 PM
Ponger from la

Hi, i love listening to you guys at work. Unfortunately, i have to use a ear piece to listen. Your high pitch noise/back ground noise whatever it is. I offended have to turn it off and stop listen completely.

Mar. 29 2016 07:00 PM
Geb Z from Fair Lawn, NJ

I would just like to say, that this piece on Oliver Sacks moved me immensely and has redefined and mystified the color indigo.

Sep. 03 2015 08:29 PM
Isaac from U.S.A

Jad,Robert. I think you already know this. Very sad, Dr.Sacks passed away around 4 of 5 in the early morning. So sad :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :(.
He was my hero!

Aug. 30 2015 05:24 PM
Angela from Texas

I listened to this show again right after finding out that Oliver Sacks died. I only knew of him because of Radiolab. Every podcast with Oliver was fantastic. Robert has a way of interviewing and explaining every subject with such ease that every show is an experience. His last interview with Oliver Sacks was heart warming, fun, and it presented us with another view of Oliver Sacks, a very complex man. He shall be missed.

Aug. 30 2015 12:14 PM
Sharon from Basel & Torrance

If I could make a wish, it would be to meet Oliver Sacks in person before he passes.

Aug. 15 2015 01:55 PM
Prasanna from Hyderabad, India

Listening to this podcast in the gym, and felt so woozy that I had to get off the equipment to stay safe. But this doesn't surprise me. I'm one of the 2-4% that faints at the sight of blood. I have once fainted at the sight of blood while watching a movie and personally, I think it's a mechanism to stem the loss of blood, by dropping blood pressure.

Aug. 09 2015 11:17 AM
Aaron from Kansas City

Yesterday (7/30/15) I listened to the podcast, complete with cautionary intro, and son of a gun if it didn't happen to me! While listening (and driving) I started to have the physical symptoms of panic/fainting, so I quickly switched it off. Made it through that part of the podcast over several different times listening. What a strange and somewhat scary experience - especially to be consciously aware of what was happening but unable to do anything about it except stop listening (and crank up the AC in the car). Thank you for the warning!

Jul. 31 2015 12:32 PM
janice Neuleib from Illinois, WGLT radio

Hi, I'm a college professor who used to have panic attacks when traveling, especially on planes. My heart would go wild at any air bump. It would also happen in other frightening situations. I've done years of yoga and meditation and assumed it was completely under control. Then I listened to this show on Sunday (I race home from singing in choir for Radio Lab), and developed a major panic attack as the live heartbeat increased. I breathed it under control as the show ended. Then your commentary followed about all those folks fainting. The heartbeat sound did not make me faint; I just wanted to jump out of my skin and run away from my own accelerating heartbeat. Thought you'd want to know. And I give money for your show. Also, I was fascinated by my reaction, so I'm not upset, just quite taken aback.

Jul. 27 2015 12:23 PM
Robert Salamon from Novi, MI

Dear Radiolab,
At about age 8, my father gave my brother and me a Webcor tape recorder, one of the first obtainable by consumers. It was heavy, expensive, had poor fidelity, but it did have a microphone with which we could record our hearts beating. We created radio shows, complete with music, commercials, interviews, and named the program with our heart sounds "Heartbeat Theater."
My brother and I are in our 70s, practicing physicians, nearing the end of our most gratifying careers.
For years I have been a dedicated contributor to public radio and television stations in my area. I will continue and will increase my support of these fantastic and valuable organizations whether they do or don't please me or agree with me.
I just listened to the Radiolab version of "The Telltale Heart," (with apology to E A Poe.)
I found the show infantile, unsophisticated, and for fear of me being the opposite of "civil," the opposite of smart.
I suspect the reason Summer's heart surgeon responded to her concern as he did, was his attempt to be polite. He probably left the room shaking his head.
As far as 7 audience members becoming syncopal on hearing an amplified heartbeat, now that you mention it I seem to recall that several of our friends passed out when we played the tape. Or was that a different program..."Bowelsounds Theater"? I can't remember.

Jul. 26 2015 11:18 PM
john from San Antonio

Sounds like the phenomena of people being affected by the heart sounds might be explained by the bass sound known as infrasound--which is known to produce a range of bizarre effects in people including anxiety, extreme sorrow and chills or nervous feelings of revulsion or fear.

I think the strange sensations reported are due to the infrasound produced by the heart beat amplified by the audio equipment— this is another example of supporting the suggestions of a link between infrasound and fear.

Jul. 26 2015 10:54 PM
Randy from Houston

Did anyone stop to think that most people only listen to the radio while they are driving? I imagine the person that decided to send this out to millions of car radios will be looking at prison time if someone is killed by it.

Jul. 25 2015 03:40 PM
Alan from Las Vegas, NV

I listened to this beautiful story and found myself wondering if the doctor she had was a quack?!?! I have two people in my family who have had heart operations and both had the same experiences as Summer, at least for a period of about 6 months. The sixth month date is relevant due to that is around the amount of time the pericardium ( the sack the surrounds our heart) and holds the liquid which works like a muffler for us so we don't hear our heart beat takes to heal.

I didn't faint but was concerned for her that there might be a problem with her pericardium. Or that it failed to seal.

I would be interested to know if she has had this checked.

Jul. 25 2015 03:39 PM
tamara from Berkeley

Dr. Sacks, I always admired your books. I once opened your Musicofilia and could not put it down. What an amazing human being you are! I am so grateful that I got to hear you talking about your life and illness with courage, humor and love. I wish you the happiest journey - because you are a very happy man, no matter what circumstances come to your life.

Jul. 25 2015 12:57 PM

Summer's story made me cry. I have had this same problem for over 8 years and i have always felt like no one has ever understood. I got lyme disease about 8years ago and it affected my heart and i have been left with this lasting torment for years. It has been anguishing and traumatizing and exhausting. And now for the first time, someone else understands this feeling. All my doctors say its fine, all my family doesn't understand...but someone out there does. Thank you for this story. I feel a little less alone.

Jul. 25 2015 11:22 AM
Bobfourdogs from halfmoon bay, b.c.

Completely wonderful interview with Dr. Sacks. Thank you so much for publicly available extraordinarily high production standards. We love Oliver to bits, period.

Jul. 24 2015 06:24 PM
Jacky Harris from Vancouver, BC

I had the same surgery as Summer Ash. Mine was after an aortic dissection/rupture which almost cost my life. I was given emergency open heart surgery and a part of my ascending aorta was replaced with a dacron graft. After this I could also feel and hear my heart in what seemed like an unnatural way. When I went to the surgeon for a checkup I told him this and he said it is common for people who have had open heart surgery to say this, and it usually goes away after 6 months. Now it is 3 years later, and it has mostly gone away, but sometimes when I am really tired or stressed I feel it again. I felt somewhat reassured to know that this was not unique to myself. I did not have a mechanical heart valve. Some people during aortic dissection also have damage to the heart valve and need that replaced. When a person has a mechanical valve there is a constant click click which never goes away. I am relieved not to have that. It is hard for me to imagine people fainting listening to this podcast........I suppose they could never become surgeons.

Jul. 24 2015 05:54 PM
Priya from Seattle

I remember when on time i was hanging out with my boyfriend and my head was on his chest. and i remember feeling like i'm going to be sick because i kept feeling like my heart beat was trying to match up to his. I couldn't breath, and i was getting nauseous. i had to move away from him for a while.

Jul. 15 2015 04:55 PM
Rebekah McMinn

I was coming off my flight to Puerto Rico, listening to this podcast. I remember feeling really anxious, but expected as the music along with the heartbeat was pretty intense. Suddenly I felt very light headed and nauseous. I was worried I might pass out in the middle of the airport and had to turn it off. I thought it was strange, but I attributed it to the climate change (which it very well could have contributed). After finishing the episode just now, I was surprised to find many people had this response! So interesting that such a simple thing can have such a large effect on people!

Jul. 10 2015 02:48 PM
JLew from St Petersburg, FL

I have to know who the closing song is by! Is it So Percussion? I can't find it if so.

Jul. 08 2015 02:43 PM
Motti from Israel

I'm writing this from an ER.

I'm not squeamish and therefore ignored the warning but while driving my sight became blurred, I was awash with cold sweo and I had to stop the car. I was so bad I couldn't even drive to the side of the road for a few minutes and was almost run into.

This is the first time anything like this ever happened to me, I had no reason to think I should worry about listening to podcasts while driving.

I suggest taking the Summer section down or making the warning much more explicit. This can get people killed.

Jul. 02 2015 04:21 AM
Tom from VA

This just blew me away, everything about it. Thanks.

Jun. 30 2015 06:44 PM
Daigo from Newfoundland, Canada

Amazing podcast. I was fine during the whole episode, but as I am writing this I am feeling slightly drowsy and light headed.

Anyway, thanks so much for this episode. I have a question about the music... who is singing the Irish lullabies? What are the songs as well?

Jun. 30 2015 10:31 AM
Taylor E. from San Jose, CA

It's weird hearing the people talk about their emotional response, because I was feeling a lot of the same things. Her life force being such a bane if her existence... it's a thought-provoking and emotional situation. Thankfully it wasn't so strong for me, since I was in the car!

Jun. 25 2015 10:20 PM
Alex from Hong Kong

Now THAT'S one NSFW podcast! Almost gave me a heart attack!

Jun. 22 2015 08:28 AM
Julie from Washington, DC

Just to echo what many have said, I too nearly passed out from listening to the heartbeats and the description of surgery. I am a horror movie enthusiast and can watch gore until the cows come home. I only experience this through the auditory channel or from actually giving blood. In both cases, just as the psychiatrist described, my already low BP drops like a rock and I either pass out or come very close. If I can see what is described as well as hear it, I'm okay. Apparently the dissonance between hearing something invasively medical and not being able to see it freaks out my parasympathetic nervous system something awful.

Lucky for me, I was listening to it on my laptop. When I felt very close to passing out, I paused it, drank some water, and walked around (causing my BP to go up). I then returned to it and could finish listen by splitting my attention like Jon from Duluth.

I think a more specific warning would probably have been better, but I can't fault Radiolab for not knowing exactly how to phrase it exactly. WARNING: Possible parasympathetic nervous system activation and fainting?

At any rate, I love the show and feel for everyone who was driving when they listened or was less aware of this phenomenon. I think this is definitely a "live and learn" moment.

Jun. 19 2015 04:59 PM
Steve from Holland, MI

Man, I have to echo the comments of many others here. I listen to lots of podcasts and was not expecting this. Driving to work, I also missed the warning 'at the top' ... because the download I received must have been early on, before they added the warning about driving or operating machinery. My version just said that "people had a strong reaction" so the guys definitely responded to people's input and updated the warning later.

I didn't react to the heartbeat like many commenters have mentioned, but my reaction was to the description of the surgery - cutting the sternum, prying open the ribs, etc. I have had experiences like this before with audible explanations of things relating to surgery, etc. so it wasn't a surprise to respond, but something about this story really caused it to come through. I needed to pause the story until later, I just couldn't handle it while safely driving a vehicle.

Thanks, guys, for updating the warning and for diving into the reaction of the audience - I would be interested in hearing a deeper exploration into this phenomenon in the future!

Jun. 15 2015 04:25 PM
Sara from Oakland, CA

I heard the warning but presumed it was for people who are squeamish - I generally am not. I was listening while standing on the train heading to work. At some point in the heartbeats I started feeling really weird and yanked my headphones out of my ears. It was too late - the darkness was already coming in and I woke up on the floor of the train with people all around. I was able to get off at my stop and made it up to my office. I went to the doctor but didn't associate it with this podcast until searching online today. This is very disturbing and dangerous - the warning should be MUCH more explicit about what to expect or it should potentially be pulled.

Jun. 11 2015 07:52 PM

This episode was so beautiful. Great stories and music, Oliver Sacks seems like such a wonderful person.

Jun. 11 2015 03:52 AM
Read Weaver from Boston

Holy crap! We all know Oliver Sacks is cute as the dickens, but who knew he was a porn star? How can a guy who's such a babe be so sweet and modest?

Jun. 05 2015 11:33 AM
Jon from Duluth, MN

I'm very intrigued by the number of people that passed out in response to the heart beat. I used to be a fainter (my dad was/is, as well) in response to seeing things like televised surgeries, talking about medical internal body stuff, and getting shots. Today, however, I donate blood and receive shots without a problem, and I've helped people who were injured and bleeding without a problem. I still start feeling that slight dizzy sensation, though, when talking about surgeries and things. I've learned to reduce this, though, by keeping my focus split between the conversation and something else, so my imagination can't get away from me. It's strange, but I'm glad it's reduced in its frequency.

Jun. 04 2015 03:57 PM
Jennie from California.

Reading these comments is so comforting. My husband and I were driving home from out of town and were listening to this program (I was driving, thank goodness). Like most, we did not pay attention to the warning. We were fully engrossed in the story when my husband fainted. I did not put two and two together until we were leaving the hospital. Now reading these comments, I am 100% sure this is what caused my husband to pass out (especially since he is a "fainter"). It's known as a vasovagal response and this program obviously triggered it in many people.

I just now finished listening the program, and the part about all of the audience members also fainting or vomiting. I had no such reaction and found the story to be so interesting.

Jun. 02 2015 05:44 PM
Natjardon from Mexico

Amazing podcast, as always!

Summer's heartbeat definitely affected me (I had to pull out my headphones at the very end as the beating grew louder and seemed to take over my breathing). However, I wasn't particularly surprised this happened to me. I faint at the sight of blood (in particular, I find its smell overpowering), though it is a change that happened overnight as a teenager (I used to love gore!). I found the trigger on the podcast to be the cutting noise as Summer has her operation.

Glad to read the comments and know there are other people out there like me!

May. 29 2015 12:55 PM
Tim from NZ Bro

Both "Acts" were amazing..... so touching, what a talented group of people you are, as well as the subjects.

May. 27 2015 06:03 AM
Dan from San Diego

I hope the people who passed out from the first story are able to hear the second one.
Three bombshells,
Oliver Sacks is
1. Dying
2. Gay
3. A (former?) recreational drug user.
I thought I knew a thing or two about him. He's an amazing man and he will be missed.

May. 26 2015 05:08 PM

The feeling was a kin to what I used to feel after waking up from a nightmare when I was a kid mixed with the feeling that I am dying or suffocating.

May. 26 2015 11:26 AM

I felt it just listening to this on head phones. I got shivers and felt disoriented.

May. 26 2015 11:11 AM
Reina from Marin County, CA

When I was listening to the first half of the episode to the woman's heart beating, the skin right below my right eyeball started pulsing in rhythm with her heart.

May. 24 2015 09:45 PM
Sasha from New York City

As someone who has both the fainting-at-the-sight-of-blood response and panic attacks, my physiological responses to this episode fascinated me, especially as you got into the explanations! I got nauseous and had to pause through the description of the surgery. This is very familiar to me - I usually have to pause or tune out of anything describing surgeries or including needles or else I get faint.

The heart beat however, triggered my anxiety response and the shortness of breath that comes with it. I had to modulate my breathing and actively calm myself down to not panic as the heartbeat was playing. As a result, I think Jad and Robert are conflating at least two totally separate responses that audience members could have had to both the surgery and heart beat parts, either of which could lead to nausea or faintness for totally different reasons.

May. 24 2015 04:50 PM
Sasha from New York City

As someone who has both the fainting-at-the-sight-of-blood response and panic attacks, my physiological responses to this episode fascinated me, especially as you got into the explanations! I got nauseous and had to pause through the description of the surgery. This is very familiar to me - I usually have to pause or tune out of anything describing surgeries or including needles or else I get faint.

The heart beat however, triggered my anxiety response and the shortness of breath that comes with it. I had to modulate my breathing and actively calm myself down to not panic as the heartbeat was playing. As a result, I think Jad and Robert are conflating at least two totally separate responses that audience members could have had to both the surgery and heart beat parts, either of which could lead to nausea or faintness for totally different reasons.

May. 24 2015 04:43 PM
Ashiq from Berlin


May. 24 2015 03:43 PM
Marika from Texas

I have never commented on a single podcast…EVER! I was listening to this podcast on my way out of town and I somehow missed the operating vehicle "warning". HOLY MOLY… I literally had to coach myself through the heart story…I wanted to quit listening several times because of how nausea I was becoming but I forced myself to press through. At one point things intensified to such a level that I contemplated driving into the oncoming traffic…that makes me sound suicidal which I am NOT! It's comforting to know that others were overwhelmed by it as well. It was INTENSE for me from beginning to the end and I do not think it was an "empathetic" response. All very fascinating.

Thanks for always putting on a great show! I look forward to it every week.

May. 23 2015 08:02 PM
Fran from Berlin, Germany

I'm not usually inspired to write comments to podcasts. As many of the comments above have described, I was floored (almost literally) by my own reaction to the first story. I was intrigued, but unfazed by the warning in the beginning. I had barely heard the heartbeating at first; in fact, I didn't hear anything and went back to listen a second time more closely. Then, when Jad and Robert started talking about the audience's reactions, the sensation came on quite suddenly. I've fainted once before, so I knew right then I was going to faint if I didn't get and walk it off, which is what I did. Even after a few minutes I didn't feel well enough to continue exercising. I would say I am an empathic person, but I didn't feel that connected to this woman and her story. Though, I do believe my body reacted to the heartbeat rhythm and might have prompted a kind of "syncopation" to the heartbeat it was hearing. Incidentally, the Latin word "syncopare" means "to swoon".
I love radiolab! Keep up the good work!

May. 21 2015 07:53 AM
Gianina S from Los Angeles

This was nuts. I listen to Radiolab all the time, and always let the story envelope and elevate me because that's what it's for! I've turned people on to this show who would never have thought twice about listening to the radio or a podcast (seeing it as a faux pas, or pretension) because of how powerful it is. Upon hearing the warning in the beginning to perhaps skip the podcast if you were operating heavy machinery or driving (I was driving home), I, like many others, HA!'ed at the weakness of the masses and continued listening. I let the story take over, per the usual, then experienced similar effects others have claimed. I felt a heavy anxiety, weight in my stomach and a clear awareness of my mortality. I thought it just happened to be a coincidence. But suddenly I was certain my airbag was going to deploy in my face. Once I parked, it came to the point in the story when Jad & Robert explained these strong reactions in people. I laughed out loud. Knowing the clear source for my anxiety made me feel much better. This was so visceral. Holy smokes.

May. 21 2015 02:06 AM
Jason from Raleigh

Who was the Irish singer on the podcast? I didn't catch her name in the credits. She had a wonderful voice.

May. 20 2015 02:05 PM
Miranda from United States

I also had a very physical response to this story! Normally I am not easily affected by radio shows, TV, movies, etc., so when I heard the warning at the beginning, I figured it probably wouldn't affect me. But even from the beginning of the description of the open-heart surgery, I started to feel this visceral reaction, and when the heartbeat sound began, I felt my heart matching its beat and pounding hard! I almost started crying at points, because I just wanted it to end, but I stuck it out.

I'm actually very glad to have had this experience, though. It was an emotional rollercoaster for me, and although it was unpleasant in the moment, there was also something beautiful about feeling that much empathy for someone I've never met. I may not know her, but my heart beat with hers in those several minutes, and that's a special connection that one rarely feels with a complete stranger. This story gets at something literally visceral that every human can relate to, and it has great emotional power - bravo!

May. 20 2015 12:55 PM
Jesse Brakefield from Austin TX

All my life I have had the issue of feeling faint when hearing a story about a medical issue. I can be injured or see injuries without any problem, but tell me a story and I get woozy. A few years back a friend was telling me about a time he injured his finger badly and I felt really woozy, but up until then I had never actually fainted, so I let him continue. Right when he got to the end of his story, when he held out his finger to show me the scar and I leaned forward to see it, I blacked out. I woke up with my wife holding my head in her lap and they were both screaming my name. I'd been having a dream that I was on the phone and I was trying to tell them to be quiet, I was trying to talk on the phone, but I couldn't really talk. It turns out I had fainted, then stopped breathing, then had a seizure, and, somewhere in all of that, lost bladder control as well. It's all about empathy, putting myself in that moment. With empathy you don't get the benefit of shock - that period where you don't really have to deal with the panic of a crisis. The panic usually comes later, when you have time to reflect on what might have happened. I was living the moment but without the protection of shock. And my wife and my friend will never let me hear the end of it (although I like laughing at myself so I don't mind telling it - obviously).

I did not faint or vomit listening to the first story but I did get a little woozy at points. (I can't listen to the boat injury story in your episode "Stress", I always have to skip that part.) Knowing this about myself I took your advice and waited until I was not driving to listen to that great story. Love you guys.

May. 20 2015 09:08 AM
Ron from United States

I missed the warning, apparently- I came here to complain that there was no warning but see now that there was one. I'm dizzy and nauseous and skipped the last few minutes of the story.

May. 20 2015 09:01 AM
Ze'ev Yehuda from California

~23:54 She's my aunt! I had no idea she was on this!

May. 19 2015 11:27 PM
Rebecca from Canada


Fainting can cause injury. Please update your podcast to include a descriptive warning.

I am hemophobic - that is - I have a phobia of blood which goes right back to an incident at the age of 2. In my case, my fainting is almost always caused by the thought of blood or the topic of blood being discussed. I have had a bad concussion due to a faint fall. I have nearly had a car accident when a radio advert came on to promote blood donation. Fainting comes on fast and there is little time to get into a safe position to protect yourself at times. To make matters worse, I have experienced humour-poking over my fainting and in one instance this has also cased my fainting.

I listened to this podcast, and I did hear a warning at the beginning but it was not very specific. I am happy to report that in my case I was not affected (I removed my headset at the operation part). I feel the heart beating noise is probably more likely the cause here, just as flashing lights can cause seizures in some people. I urge you to please be responsible and take this seriously before someone gets hurt.

May. 19 2015 03:23 PM
Rebecca from Canada


Fainting can cause injury. Please update your podcast to include a descriptive warning.

I am hemophobic - that is - I have a phobia of blood which goes right back to an incident at the age of 2. In my case, my fainting is almost always caused by the thought of blood or the topic of blood being discussed. I have had a bad concussion due to a faint fall. I have nearly had a car accident when a radio advert came on to promote blood donation. Fainting comes on fast and there is little time to get into a safe position to protect yourself at times. To make matters worse, I have experienced humour-poking over my fainting and in one instance this has also cased my fainting.

I listened to this podcast, and I did hear a warning at the beginning but it was not very specific. I am happy to report that in my case I was not affected (I removed my headset at the operation part). I feel the heart beating noise is probably more likely the cause here, just as flashing lights can cause seizures in some people. I urge you to please be responsible and take this seriously before someone gets hurt.

May. 19 2015 03:19 PM
Holly from Ontario, Canada

I'm not sure if Radiolab is curious to hear how many listeners at home have a response to this story, but I certainly did. I didn't know that this episode was evoking physical responses in listeners (and actually think it should maybe include a warning)-- I was doing the dishes and not totally concentrating on the episode, in an out. The heart beat started to make me panic. Although I'd like to think myself empathetic, I wasn't feeling a tremendous amount of sympathy for the woman in the episode, I just felt like my own heart was racing, and it intensified as the drums picked up. At some point I thought to myself this is torture, I'm going to be sick. I felt like I was having chest pains, I had taken a break from dishes to eat some nacho chips with salsa but I had to stop because I suddenly felt like the salt was going to give me a heart attack. I had to turn the podcast off take a seat and breath deeply. I still feel like the rhythm of my heartbeat is off, I feel lightheaded and have lost my appetite.

I really wrestled with whether to turn the podcast back on, but am so glad I did. Although I don't wish that reaction on anyone, I was relieved to hear I wasn't alone.

May. 18 2015 07:53 PM

As always, you guys make great radio. This piece reminded me of a moment I have never forgotten and this broadcast helped make more sense of it. It was not for the heartbeat piece, proper, but the reactions to it. Interesting to me,the psychiatrists determination is not the one I made for myself or would have made for the others.
My moment was short but needs a bit of story. I was walking up a hill in the city with a couple friends, narrow street and tall old towne homes on either side. Our conversation drifted to Tsunamis..I don't know why. I started talking about this picture I had seen in National Geographic. It was a man on a pier and a giant wave in front of him that was, without a doubt, going to consume him. I could not believe I was seeing a person's last moments in a picture. He was at the very bottom of the page and the wave took all of the 7and 3/4 inches up on the page.
As I was explaining this event and picture to them I started seeing a rising Tsunami, with every description, word, thought ..I started seeing a rising Tsunami. When I saw it full, I just had to stop talking and give a BRRRRR, shaking to the head. I visualised the Tsunami as it was right to come down that moment. It was just a matter of seconds that the words gave over to feelings. Quick, but an unbelievably lasting memory.
I believe some people have tremendous visual to sensory capabilities. Call it a creative mind, maybe it's a weaker mind. I have no idea.

May. 18 2015 05:36 PM
Sophie Gibson Rush from United States

I fainted! Just lay down there on the kitchen floor where I was making breakfast. CAREFUL WITH THIS THING!!!!!

May. 18 2015 04:45 PM
John from OH

Why does Molly Webster have to keep using "like" all the damn time? Also, don't say "wicked smart". So Percussion belongs on an album and not onstage narrating a story. It's distracting.

May. 18 2015 12:52 PM
Ben from Redding, CA

Robert looks like Harrison Ford in the picture at the top.

May. 17 2015 06:28 PM
Emma Greene

Listening to this led me to a rush of emotional and physical effects. I thought my new found anxiety and nausea was due to already present thoughts already in my head. But during the second half of the first section I began to put two-and-two together. I believe my symptoms were due to ever so present heartbeat throughout the piece. Hearing it made me begin to wonder whether she would ever have freedom from the constant thump? Would she ever be able to sit in a quiet room and focus on the color of the wall rather than the beating in her chest? The piece was amazing and I'm fascinated behind the science of my reaction to it.

May. 16 2015 10:39 PM
Sam G from Los Angeles

So, I haven't read the other comments yet, and I'm wondering if I am the first to report being physically affected by the heartbeat story I. The same way the live audience members were. I was listening in the passenger seat of a car with someone else and suddenly started feeling very sick. My temperature went very high, and I started dripping with sweat. I got so nauseous I made the driver pull over and stop the car. I had to drop my seat into full recline to be at all comfortable. When we stopped, the car stereo shut off and I immediately started to feel better. To be honest, I felt at the time that it was caused by the program, but we had just driven down a fairly curvy canyon road (one I traverse 4 or more times daily, without ever getting sick in the past), so I didn't say it out loud. But I knew, even before you revealed what it was, that the disturbance in the audience was going to be people feeling what I felt. You definitely want to put a warning on the podcast and any future broadcasts - I would have listened regardless, but it would have been nice to know, up front, what was going on. It would have allowed me to pause the show before it got so bad. It was otherwise an interesting experience, but still better to short circuit the response.

May. 16 2015 07:28 PM
Patrick Fennimore from Florida

Everyone's tastes are different, this episode was not to my taste, in fact I found it kind of dull. I look forward to your episodes, and I think you have a very valuable forum and format. This was kind of like the guy who painted the can of soup. I expect better from you guys.

May. 16 2015 06:44 PM
Mike Trottier from United States

I can relate to this story in many, many ways. I underwent this very surgery on February 25th this year. The major twist between my experience and Summer's is that even before my surgery I have always been able to hear my heart. I have been able to block it out most of the time but there have been times that I thought it would drive me insane. Some nights I would have a difficult time falling asleep because my heart would keep me awake. I am so use to it that I could always tell you my current heart rate is within a couple of beats.

Now here is the really amazing part. Just prior to discovering my aneurysm I was sitting watching TV when I noticed that the my heart not beating normally. After years and years of hearing my heart when it changed it definitely caught my attention. As Summer mentioned there are no known symptoms of a aneurysm but this change was unnerving enough to cause me to call my Dr.

Now the really strange part is that as soon as I walked into the doctors office to have my heart checked the abnormal beating stopped. My wife and boy both listened to my abnormal heartbeat but as mentioned as soon as the aneurysm my heartbeat returned to normal and the abnormality never returned.

Post surgery I can still hear my heat 24X7 if I pay attention. Having lived my entire life this way it never causes me anxiety like Summer. In fact I can honestly tell you that my ability to hear my heartbeat literally saved my life. Even though Medical professionals say that there are no symptoms for an aortic aneurysm I believe my heart spoke to me to tell me that I was having a problem.

If Summer wants to contact me to share experiences I be happy to speak to her.

May. 16 2015 12:52 PM
Dave H. from Western NY state

Listened on my run today. I was on the trail deep in humid woods under a light rain, feeling very energized, endorphins rising, surrounded by sounds and smells – and broke down weeping like I never have while listening to something from the Internet. No fainting or blood-anxiety, just overwhelmed by the crushing beauty and tragic glory of living a short embodied life in the world. I'm an unremarkable middle-aged cancer survivor with a spouse and a kid and ordinary set of problems, and just stopped and sat down on the ground to finish the episode. Thank you so much for creating this beautiful piece of work.

May. 16 2015 10:16 AM

I thought you guys might be interested to know my own reaction to the heartbeat segment. It was definitely a beautiful story but it made me increasingly uncomfortable as time passed. I found myself repeating the thought "Please don't let anything like this ever happen to me" over and over. I didn't feel like I would faint, exactly, but I did feel a sense that I needed to escape from something, and that I needed to breathe a little harder. The most interesting thing is that I felt like the underwires in my bra were pressing against my ribcage too tightly, like my entire torso was being sort of compressed by that sensation. As soon as the story was over I felt fine.

May. 15 2015 04:06 PM

I'm listening to this at work and felt really nauseous and trapped when the heartbeats came on. I'm pretty confident it has nothing to do with the graphic surgery descriptions. The heartbeats got to me so much that I couldn't really concentrate on what the narrator was saying.

Also Oliver Sacks is amazing!

May. 15 2015 02:04 PM
Luz from Portland, OR

Thank you for the great work y'all do. Dr. Sacks has been a great inspiration in my nursing practice, thank you Dr. Sacks.

May. 14 2015 09:40 PM
Jeff from Lehi, UT

I was listening to this one on my headphones while walking to lunch at work and I nearly passed out listening to the heartbeat section... this immense feeling of being trapped came over me and everything started spinning. I had to sit down for several minutes before I felt solid enough to walk again.

May. 14 2015 07:28 PM
Simon from United States

I'm just sitting at work and I started feeling faint and lost strength in my hand when she started describing the heart surgery. I'm pretty sure it was mostly from imagining the graphic surgery and not from hearing the heartbeat. I have a friend who often passes out at the sight of blood or gore in movies, but I never really understood what was happening. Now I do....

May. 14 2015 06:16 PM
Seymour Butts from Hartford, CT

I also had a bit of a fainting spell listening to the piece about the heart. I was thinking about a friend who had gone through open heart surgery and how badly he must have felt physically after. I also pondered that scene from Independence Day where they autopsy the alien. I also have not eaten much food today but had plenty of coffee. Synergy!

May. 14 2015 05:39 PM

You really couldn't figure out on your own why people were fainting in this story? It wasn't just the heart beat sound, it was describing in detail the sawing of the sternum and pulling back the rib cage. It was super gross.

May. 14 2015 04:01 PM

I'm a fainter. Been woken up with smelling salts 5 times. Had to put my head between my legs when taking notes on blood & the blood system. I was laying down while listening to this podcast. I did not feel anything unusual. The part that did mentally bothered me was when you were talking about photographing the surgery. Glad she made peace with her heart.

May. 14 2015 03:51 PM

Are there any more signed copies of Dr. Sacks book for sale?

May. 14 2015 02:55 PM
Erin from Brooklyn

I had the fainting and nausea thing happen to me this morning on the train! I had to turn off the podcast until I could get a seat (listen to something else in the meantime to take my mind off) and then turn it back on once I was sitting down. The only other time this has happened was when I was reading a book that suddenly started describing childbirth. This time, I found myself thinking about her heartbeat and how she was so upset with her heart, though it was giving her life. I also tried taking deep breaths, but that was a mistake. I just focused on the floor in front of me instead.

May. 14 2015 01:05 PM
Eugenia from Washington DC

This is the second Radio Lab podcast that left me in tears, and not because I had anxiety having heard Summer's heartbeat. Thanks to you guys I do love Oliver Sachs, and the music was striking, but I'm also aware that not only is the content emotionally moving, but the overall production is perfectly melded: pacing, music, even the applause at the end. The other podcast that led me to tears was "Words" from Aug 9, 2010, which as a professor of creative writing I assigned to all my students for two semesters. Unforgettable to this day. Thank you a thousand times.

May. 14 2015 11:19 AM
Tom Allfree from London

Great podcast as always.

I was affected by the fainting thing. I was standing on a train on the way to work, and suddenly felt that I was going to pass out (which never happens to me). I had to sit on the floor, and leave the train at the next stop. I realised that my heart beat was in sync with the beat on the podcast (and the excellent riffing of So Percussion over the top of it).

So, late for work. Thanks a bunch Radiolab!

May. 14 2015 07:34 AM
Anand from Bellevue, WA

What an amazing podcast! I loved both parts. Both of them has a personal connection to me. When I was in high school learning anatomy, heart was the first thing I really understood, loved and still love. When Summer Ash's heart beat was filling my ears via my earphones, I stopped what I was doing and meditated on it. And felt exactly the same thing she felt while having a glance of her heart while having her echo cardio gram. My fascination with this organ increased because of this NOVA episode which I saw via Discovery Channel in India:

Thanks for bringing back those memories for me and for producing this amazing podcast.

May. 14 2015 02:50 AM
Edson from Los Angeles

Excellent podcast. I have to admit that I couldn't listen to it all the way through. I needed breaks because the heartbeat alone was giving me anxiety and making me nauseous.

May. 13 2015 08:21 PM
Jeff from United States

Interesting story, but next time please air a show about the improper use of the word "like". I like counted 43 incorrect uses of the word "like" before I like had to like stop listening. It was like too grueling. Maybe you are like trying to capture a younger audience, but like I'm like a 50 year old guy and it like is extremely difficult to listen to highly educated people butcher the English language. I would like really like (correct use) to hear a podcast that addresses this grammatical virus. I can understand hearing it like from a group of like 12 year old girls, but NPR....come're like better than that.

May. 13 2015 07:28 PM
Whitney B from Brooklyn

Guys! I'm a huge fan - ever since War of the Worlds and Zoos. So I'm sure you thought about this... Why did you decide to play the Summer story without notifying listeners of possible reactions? im thinking about commuters, etc.

May. 13 2015 07:06 PM
Kalina Griggs from United States

I have to admit while I was listening to Summer's heartbeat I suddenly got a huge rush of anxiety. My heart beat accelerated, i got short of breath, my stomach knotted up, and I felt almost panicky...It was pretty bizarre and a little awkward being that I was at work at the time... The funny thing is I have a heart defect called Ventricular Septal Defect. Basically I have a hole between my right ventricle and left ventricle. So hearing the strong beat of Summer's heart I almost felt like that was mine beating extremely hard...Very interesting reaction. Needless to say I still very much enjoyed this episode! :) - Kalina G. from Portland OR

May. 13 2015 05:59 PM


The song is Gathering the Elements by Noveller off of her album No Dreams.

May. 13 2015 01:49 PM
LaleAnn from Switzerland

Dr. Oliver Sacks seems to be an amazing and unique, bright human being. I'm glad and grateful you guys made this with and about him. It makes me sad to know he's sick.. You made the best, loving podcast someone like that would deserve. Good job and thank you.

May. 13 2015 11:38 AM

Can anyone give me the name of the artist and track we hear at the end of the episode; after Oliver's segment to the close of the episode?

May. 13 2015 09:30 AM

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