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The Heartbeat

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Molly Webster at BAM (Photo Credit: Matthew Septimus)

Three years ago, out of the blue, astrophysicist Summer Ash was told she needed heart surgery. But it was what happened after the surgery, while she was recovering, that turned out to be the most surprising thing: her newly mended heart had a beat that was very, very strong. In this story told by Radiolab producer Molly Webster, we come to see just how complicated our relationship with our heart is, and what it means to be ever-aware of this lifelong companion.

The Heartbeat was scored live by SO Percussion, their new work "Music for Wood & Strings" is out now.

While reporting this story, it seems everyone had a "heart" song they suggested to producer Molly Webster. She's compiled the staff's suggestions below. Please let us know some of your favorites. 


Summer Ash

Produced by:

Molly Webster

Comments [114]

L.Leeuw from NL

I know this is an old episode but today its 8 years ago i had open-heart surgery myself and i was reminded of this episode. As a mailman Radiolab is one of my favorite podcasts, and when i downloaded this episode i was really looking forward to it, I am a great admirer of Oliver Sacks and his work and, as someone with his own experience, i was also interested in the Tell-Tale Heart story.

When i heard the warning at the start of the show i thought 'oh well, i'll be fine, i've dealt with this' but after a few minutes i just had to stop listening. I spend the next 15-something minutes trying to keep myself together as i was delivering people their bills and analogue spam. I tried listening once more, maybe twice and then decided it was just too much for me. I skipped to the second part and enjoyed it as usual. (Oliver Sacks will always be an inspiration) Then i skipped a little back to check out what you guys had to say about the show and the reactions. That almost made me cry again.
The combination of the story and the music really did the trick for me and although i haven't been able to listen to the story from beginning to end without getting very emotional I would like to thank everyone involved in this episode.

Because of my own experience I guess it'd make sense this story would affect me, but I do think that it was the overall production and combination of elements that made it too much for me. I don't think it's just 1 thing; maybe it's just the intense confrontation with something that we don't like to think about: the fragility of our bodies, and everyone has their own experience with that! It's subject is intense and it can be scary and painfull, but it's also very beautifull. This story reminded me of all those things surrounding that experience.

Feb. 18 2016 09:06 AM
cosmic matrix from Vermont

I heard the warning but didn't think I would be affected. Yes, I am the type of person who has fainted before.... I was fine throughout the program (although it was a bit disturbing), but then as the program ended and I got up I started feeling funny....and then I fainted. I was on the floor, and that feeling of departure overtook me and then I did not know where I was for a few seconds. Then both ears started getting that white noise effect and I felt a heaviness and tingling in all my extremities.

I have not fainted in years.

You guys! WTF! Here's my guess: Maybe-- Being an empathic person, maybe my heartbeat entrained to the one on the radio....and the one on the radio perhaps was slower than mine should have been, so WHA-LA: low blood pressure?

Good theory, eh?

Now stop producing shows that make people pass out. :)


Jan. 11 2016 02:47 PM
Andrea from Dublin, OH

Long time listener, first time commenter.....
A little late to the party on this one, but I had to mention that I found the reactions your audience had fascinating. It made me think of a time when I was laying on my couch and my dog hopped up and snuggled up on my chest. His little heart was just beating away and I could feel it through both of our chests. It was really pretty neat at first, but then I started to feel funny and a little light headed and I couldn't figure out why. What the gentleman that wrote in mentioned was the only thing I could think of - that my body was feeling his heartbeat and almost trying to attune to it. Such a crazy feeling and a weird thing to think about. Loved this story and hearing that maybe I wasn't crazy in thinking this was a possibility :-) Thanks for all you do Radiolab.

Dec. 10 2015 03:52 PM

I'm belated in commenting but I just heard this episode for the first time. Although I found the story to be fascinating, I was never able to truly experience the impact because of Molly Webster's incessant and childish use of the word "like" over and over and over again. I assume she is an intelligent and education person, but she came across sounding like such an idiot that I declined to turn off the episode only because I didn't have any more podcasts to listen to during that drive. Please get this woman some coaching, or get her off the air. She's a disgrace to Radiolab, which is ordinarily professional and engaging.

Nov. 11 2015 10:55 AM
Marj from MN

What happened to the recording?
I'm trying to find it so I can listen again...

Sep. 04 2015 05:22 PM
Julie from GA

I had my podcast for Radiolab playing as I drove home from work - it skipped to this podcast which I must have started earlier and turned off due to discomfort. I missed the first few sentences....I started having great difficulty coping as the drumbeats increased and the story continued. No fainting, thank goodness, but I got the uncomfortable, get-me-out-of-here feelings I always get when blood or surgery is mentioned (even though this story featured neither). Luckily,I managed - just barely - to get through the telling. Glad you mentioned some of the audience's reactions, to know it just wasn't me reacting like this. This one should have come with a warning.

Sep. 01 2015 07:21 PM
Ana from Miami

As i was listening to this story i felt like other people have, anxious , emotional, trapped and so on, i felt what the story was describing: Summers angst and what i was feeling was empathy. I have been dealing with my extreme empathy for years, the whole putting yourself in someone else's shoes can get out of control and emotions can get really strong to the point i have to run (turn off the tv, turn the page or stop listening) from whatever is making me feel a certain way. Now, im wondering if those people who couldnt handle the story were feeling levels of empathy they never felt before. The production of this story is so genius that exposes the listener to different dimensions of the one event in Summer's life that actually hits the empathy spot in the listeners brains in a way pictures and movies cant anymore. Perhaps news should be produced in the same way so people can feel again what other people go through and maybe react and start some change.

Aug. 31 2015 01:00 PM
Dale from Brooklyn, NY

Actually, I guess I hadn't listen to this all the way through before (but now I have), it definitely sounds like Summer's experience was much worse than mine. While I certainly have been bothered by my heart beat and I never lost sleep over it and it never really bothered me at work. But the snap of the mechanical valve is the main difference for me. I am kind of a big guy, so perhaps my body mass helped mask some of the sound.

Aug. 30 2015 11:37 PM
Dale from Brooklyn, NY

My niece pointed out this story to me, for good reason. I totally relate to Summer's story, as I have had a similar surgery, except mine may be a bit worse because I ended up needing an aortic valve replaced. You don't have any symptoms from an aortic root aneurysm until it's too late. I was lucky to have taken part in a medical study at Weill Cornell Medical College and they found my aneurysm. They had to do a routine echocardiogram for the study and they saw it. The tech said something like, "I'm not supposed to diagnose anything, but I think they are going to want to talk to you about this." Sure enough I got a call from the primary investigator the next day and then I got an appointment that week. Had surgery in January of 2013, I'm doing okay. Tell Summer it gets better. :)

Aug. 30 2015 10:49 PM
Miss Mildred from Dallas

As I listened to her heartbeat, I, eerily, became one with her and her heartbeat was my heartbeat. In her story, as she waits longer and longer for the sound to go away, I knew that as this was happening to me along with her, I was inevitably heading toward insanity. She made her peace with it by knowing what was happening inside her body. Just remembering the story now, I return instantly to that timeless, breathless, heartbeat heartbeat that took over my very existence.

Aug. 02 2015 11:31 PM
Dee Williams from Olympia, WA

Thank you on so many levels! The whole pod cast was awesome and caused me great thought and appreciation. I too had heart surgery some years ago to implant an internal defibrillator, and woke up with an overly loud and super strong heart. I had the same party trick, and struggled with the same muse: "this one, one one one one." Thank you for normalizing my experience and for bringing it to life. And... like so many others, I found my heart in my throat through the amplified heart sound. wow... that was cool! Dee

Aug. 01 2015 12:02 AM
Jay from College Park, MD

Loved the show, but Ms. Webster PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE stop using the word "like" so much. It was as if I had been transported to California in the late 80s and 90's. The Valley Girl was out in full force and I nearly turned off the program over my son's objections.

Jul. 31 2015 12:07 PM
Lisa Johnson from Quincy, Massachusetts

After listening to this show while I was driving and getting dizzy and feeling sick, I figured maybe you'd want more feedback about the people that were impacted. I must have missed the warnings at the beginning of the story. Maybe you need to have stronger warnings throughout the show!

I was driving and late to where I was going, so I didn't have time to pull over and compose myself. It's a good thing I didn't faint, although I have never been a fainting type of person. But I do get queasy at the sight of blood.

As I was listening to the show, I felt so bad about what was happening to Summer. There was one point where the sound of the beating heart kept going and going and getting louder and louder. I was afraid that it was going to beat out of her chest! Then I started feeling nauseated and wished the beating would stop. But I had to keep driving! I really felt ill and was wondering why I was feeling so badly. It was interesting to hear that I wasn't the only one!

Great show, but I think you need more warnings. Tell people not to listen while they are driving, just in case!

Jul. 31 2015 09:50 AM
Erin from Harrisburg PA

I tuned into this program on NPR during my lunch break today. I must have tuned in after the warnings because halfway through the heart beat sequence I felt my blood pressure drop and at first had no idea why. I quickly turned the radio off because it felt like the right thing to do and laid back to allow my body to recover. As I began to feel better I called my husband thinking I might need to be seen by a doctor. As we talked I thought about what I had been listening to and realized it might have had something to do with how I was feeling. I turned the radio back on fully intending to change the channel right away but heard them discussing the reactions of people in the live audience and decided to listen in. I couldn't believe that they were describing a reaction identical to what I had just experienced. I do happen to be one of those people who faint at the sight of blood. I'm interested in the science behind what happened but am concerned about what could have happened if I was driving my car rather than just sitting in it.

Jul. 28 2015 03:27 PM

This started triggering a very hard anxiety attack for me and I had to stop...

Jul. 27 2015 10:08 PM
Shannon Cuoco from Colorado

I was driving home from work about an hour ago and switched on the radio and caught this show- not too far into it I think but far enough to have apparently missed the warning not to be driving whilst listening to it. I was mesmerized by the story, but I also had quite a visceral reaction to it. Being a nurse, I have been exposed to my fair share of blood and heart conditions and audio and visual demonstrations of all kinds of hearbeats, surgeries, etc. I am not squeamish. But I do suffer from premature ventricular contractions which are largely benign but are still energetic enough for me to be aware of several times per day. As I drove I could feel my chest tighten up and I became very aware of my heartbeat, and I felt just a touch woozy. And oddly, my hands began to hurt. Like, really hurt, and I could feel my palms pulsating against the steering wheel.

The program concluded with reports of the reactions of audience members and the psychologists theories on why, and I was amazed, as I am now to see all the comments above me!

Jul. 27 2015 09:11 PM
Brandon from Austin from Austin, TX

My comment is along the same lines as some others here... I loved the story, and didn't really take the warning at the beginning of the piece very seriously. This was on July 26th. I live in Austin, and was on my way home from getting a late morning coffee...and began to feel light headed and get some tunnel vision as I drove. I have only passed out twice in my life...but remember the feeling just before each time. I was trying to think of something I ate...or any other explanation...until the end of the story where it was mentioned that so many people felt feint. Incredible. I didn't quite have to pull off the road...but I contemplated it. I loved the story, and wasn't bothered by any of it, consciously. I am glad to see that I'm not alone... I love how Summer was able to come to appreciate and find some peace with her heart!!

Jul. 27 2015 04:32 PM
Donna from Washington, DC

I so enjoyed this piece, and hearing the various thoughts about the reasons for audience members' reactions to hearing the beating heart.

As a psychoanalyst, I find it interesting to consider the unconscious reasons of the reactions reported - an unconscious identification with the "trapped" heart and therefore, fainting or vomiting as a way to leave, or expel the horror of feeling claustrophobic.

Another: an unconscious memory is aroused -- that of being back in the womb, hearing the mother's heartbeat, a truly eerie experience, and one that would make some want to flee the room, literally or symbolically, or, again, to expel the unwelcome fantasy.

Jul. 27 2015 02:57 PM
Robert Salamon from Novi,

I am devoted to public radio, and have been and continue to be a consistent supporter of my regional Public Radio and Public Television stations.
When I was about 8, my father presented to my brother and me a Webcor tape recorder.
We had a great time making "programs," and when we realized that placing the microphone against our chest, we could record and play our heartbeat. Though this was one of the first tape recorders available to consumers, and it had vacuum tubes, a steep price, weighed a ton, and was primitive by any standards, we thought it was so cool to play back our fairly loud and unmistakable heartbeat. We named our program "Heartbeat Theater," and included pop songs, "interviews," "commercials," the whole bit. We tried to make it "scary." I wish I still had the tape.
Now we are in our 70s, both practicing physicians nearing the ends of most enjoyable careers.
I just listened to "Radiolab" about the "Telltale Heart" (apology to E. A. Poe.)
I found the story astonishingly infantile, unsophisticated and if I wasn't concerned about not being "civil," the s word opposite of smart.
I suspect that is why the heart surgeon responded to his patient's concern as he did. He probably left the exam room shaking his head.
I wonder if those of the audience who "passed out" were hypotensive from embarrassment.
I will continue my undying commitment to public radio and TV.
I still love public radio, and Rr

Jul. 26 2015 10:37 PM
David Weststrate from Kalamazoo, Michigan

Hi About the response to the heartbeat././ Back in the early 1980's there was a game called Centipede which had a human heartbeat as background noise. The more stressful the game, the faster the sound of the heart. The first, and only time, I played this game I couldn't understand why I felt that I was having a heart attack. I soon discovered that my own heart beat was responding to the game.
Thus I feel certain members in your audience might have been "tuned in" to the increased heart beat sound and felt abnormal. When they felt this experience they only became more upset and their nervous system went into stress.

Jul. 26 2015 09:42 PM
Melodie Somers from Somerset, NJ

My theory is that the audience members who threw up or fainted when they heard Summer's heartbeat is that they were experiencing an early sense memory of being in the womb and syncing to the mother's heartbeat. Any number of personal variations on their individual reactions to that intense memory at the beginning of life could induce vomiting or fainting.
Melodie Somers
(Psychoanalytically trained.)

Jul. 25 2015 11:37 PM
jan moore from Santa Rosa, CA

What a WONDERFUL program. I'm 77, have heart valve problems (since 1/2015) an uneven heartbeat, may need open heart surgery but am on meds to control the situation, trying to avoid surgery - waiting, waiting, waiting. The experience of being obsessed, or overwhelmed by the sound, rate and sensation of that magic beating has been life changing; not altogether negative at my age. My "girlfriend" heart stayed calm and happy thru the program, no fainting, nausea etc tho that has happened in the past, so it was a love letter to me, another warm invitation to consider the end of life, calmly and happily, helped by the sharing of another story, so different, and also similar. Thank You Thank You - and for Oliver Sacks too.

Jul. 25 2015 05:57 PM
Rebecca Buchanan-Mackie from Norwood, MA

I've just now had the most profoundly odd experience, listing to this story. I was out running errands, got back into my car, turned on the radio and drove off. This story was in progress, and the woman was describing the unbearable post-surgical pain, and then the sounds of the heartbeat began, and after hearing maybe 3 sets of heartbeats I became disoriented and anxious. I felt this overwhelmingly powerful need to escape. Despite being alone in the car I remember saying aloud, "Oh, I can't listen to any more of THIS," and promptly switched to the other Boston NPR station.

I was bemused by the strength of my reaction, and said to myself, "Well, THAT was upsetting." Some minutes later, I went back to 90.9 to see if the program had moved on to the next story yet. It had not, and I almost switched stations again but then I realized that I was hearing not the story, but the radio people talking about the story, and I ended up spending 5 minutes sitting in my car in my driveway listening to the end of that piece in wonderment, as they discussed the phenomenon of adverse reactions in some people caused by listening to those heartbeats!

Now that I'm home, I know I have to listen to the podcast, and analyze my reaction. But I'm a little bit afraid.

Jul. 25 2015 03:59 PM
Betsy Robinson from NY, NY

Thank you so much for this transformative story. For me, the heartbeat became an all-consuming meditation. I've tried to go to this state in meditation and rarely get there because of my "monkey mind." But this story was, in some ways, the story of anybody who goes the meditation route. The ending was perfectly paced, and I too was feeling incredible gratitude--to the point of tears--for my own heart (aka "ME") and the work it does for me. Oh, what a wonderful piece of radio.

Jul. 25 2015 01:56 PM
Tanni from 11231

I was so affected by this story - my own heart is pounding so loud as I wait for me friends to join me for brunch at Carroll gardens bklyn. I have just been told a month ago that I too have an aortic aneurysm where my aorta is 4.2cm instead of 2cm, and I got the MRI done yesterday and waiting for results on Monday. I feel a little woozy and nauseous listening to that self percussion and my own beat is thumping so loud I can see my hair shake on my scalp. Maybe all the sympathetic systems have been triggered. I don't know what interventions I will need - I am hoping that things just stay still and I manage with bp meds my whole life. Kids and husband are way and this feels almost trippy writing and listening to radio lab.

Jul. 25 2015 12:40 PM
layla from USA

I loved this episode but it also freaked me out. I was so engrossed in the heartbeat that I did not notice my own lungs constricting in an asthma attack. When this part of the episode was over, I noticed that I was wheezing. It's very strange how these things happen. The power of the radio, I suppose.

Jul. 25 2015 12:34 AM
Joshua from Colombia

In all honesty, I was only half-way listening to the story while on the bus in Bogota, Colombia earlier today, when all of a sudden, I felt nauseous and light-headed. Next thing I knew, I was sitting on the floor in the bus station trying to figure out what the heck just happened!? I thought, "I hadn't eaten anything strange... or could it related to that time I hit my head when I was a little kid?" After a while I just got up and continued with my day. It wasn't until I was on my was home that I listened to the end of the story and was blown away to hear that other people responded in the same way. (Until that point, I hadn't connected the dots to figure out that my physical response came from the podcast - who knew that was even possible!). This is surely the first time a story has had such a dramatic effect on me.

Have you thought of doing a follow-up about the parasympathetic response?

Jul. 10 2015 06:18 PM
Kinseylv from tx

Cleaning my house, while listening to this podcast, I didn't pay any attention to the warning. I became totally flushed, panicky and sick to my stomach. Such a visceral reaction, I had to go lay down for a little bit! It was intense!

Jul. 10 2015 05:05 PM
Charlotte H from London

Really pleased to know I am not the only one! I got 7 mins 45 seconds into the podcast before starting to faint on the tube. I didn't even get to the heartbeat bit people are talking about! Thankfully two nurses were standing next to me and helped me off the train to sit with my head between my legs.

As a big Radiolab fan this just shows how powerful their podcasts are. I will continue listening when I'm not moving and firmly seated!

Jul. 03 2015 05:31 AM
Elisa from Omaha

I listened to the podcast and also had an interesting reaction. I was reminded of when I was in high school, I would have panic attacks and think my heart was going to stop (for no apparent reason, I was in good health). I would wake up with my heart pounding in the middle of the night and have to make myself some Kava or Chamomile tea in order to calm down enough to go back to sleep. I felt that same anxiety while listening to her heartbeat. I felt such empathy for her, because if I had to constantly listen to my heartbeat I would have constant anxiety that it would suddenly stop and I would die. Without knowing it I had closed my eyes and imagined surrounding myself with nothing else but this heartbeat. When I opened my eyes I saw grey stars. I felt that in hearing her heartbeat I was hearing my own, and I felt as if my heart was trying to match hers, but I was too afraid to feel my own heart (because of this HS anxiety). I want to listen to the podcast again, but maybe when I'm at home in bed...

Jun. 23 2015 01:42 PM
Katie from Santa Clara, CA

Just adding to the list of people who got light-headed while driving and listening to the podcast... It's something I've experienced before (generally having to do with talk of circulatory systems, the functioning of the heart, etc - my sister and mother have this happen too). I've been told it's a vasovagal response (as others have mentioned), and was surprised not to hear it described as such on the show. I was also surprised that the warning was not up front - I would have preferred not to be driving while listening!

Jun. 18 2015 01:22 PM
Lisa B from Beaumont, TX

My family was listening to this podcast an hour ago on our road trip; I had to pull over after my husband fainted-I have never seen him do this before. Scared me and our son more than anything. He is all right now. We initially kind of laughed at the warning in the beginning of the show. The power of good story telling cannot be underestimated.

Jun. 12 2015 01:56 PM
Jay from Pacific City, OR

I felt nauseous listening to this podcast as well, I aas driving and had to take a break in the middle of the story. I was surprised when they mentioned at the end that several people had strong reactions to the story! Maybe they should have had a warning at the beginning...

Jun. 12 2015 01:01 AM
Rocky from Netanya, Israel

I'm an American finishing one year of volunteer work in the Middle East. I teach English at an elementary school. Last week, I fainted at school (Dehydration? Low blood pressure? Who knows?) and went home. While resting, I decided to listen to this episode. I quickly became nauseous and lightheaded., which surprised me. I am not faint-hearted in the slightest- blood and morbid subjects affect me very little. However, something about hearing the heartbeat made my stomach turn. Perhaps it was due to my already weakened state. Anyway- great episode, great stuff.

Jun. 10 2015 03:34 PM
shelly from south africa

Summer's story really touched me. I found myslef getting so emotional to the point of tears. I havent experienced this before, it was like she was telling my story and saying my thoughts. I too have a heart murmur (never had a heart opp though) and when I'm in a quiet space I can hear my heart as well. Not all the time but I do. When I saw my heart on the ecg for the first time, I couldn't pull away from it. It was both an exciting and overwhelming experience. Thanks for telling her story.

Jun. 04 2015 03:54 PM

Had to turn this off while listening in the car last night - I got nauseous and short-of-breath. I was able to finish listening to it this morning during my commute but I hated every minute of the heartbeat sounds - I was gritting my teeth through it! Amazing how a sound every living human produces can evoke such strong physical reactions.

Jun. 04 2015 02:46 PM
Eric from GA

So we were one of the ones who took the warning lightly, especially the part abt operating heavy machinery!

Are you kidding me, my wife drove through a red light!!! Totally got hypnotized !!


What a story!

Jun. 03 2015 10:43 PM
Chuck from Houston

@pierre from venus
I was thinking about your comment and it occurred to me that Ms. Ash's heart surgeon surely must have known the true cause of her abnormally loud heart beat, and that his explanation to her that it would probably go away after some months when the scar tissue "thinned out" was nonsense. He must have been hoping she would just get used to the loud heartbeat.

Jun. 01 2015 11:03 PM

@pierre from venus
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your comment! I knew there had to be some explanation and I hoped they would eventually tell us what it was, but they never offered one. This story was interesting at first, but then became annoying as they really "milked" the emotional aspect. I feel like they went overboard. I was thinking, "Okay, we get it. Enough already." The second annoying thing about this story was that they never offered an explanation of Ms. Ash's condition. In that respect, this story was not up to typical Radiolab standards in my opinion.

Jun. 01 2015 09:36 PM
pierre from venus

It should have been mention in the over-emotional show, that this is a common occurrence with open heart surgeries.

The pericardial sac that surrounds the heart is cut and often not closed after the heart has been operated on - I believe this is to avoid infection.

The heart sort of floats in the pericardial sac, which isolates the beating heart vibrations from the chest cavity.

May. 31 2015 12:23 PM
Jordan from Chicago

As always, thank you for your beautiful story telling on fascinating topics.

Listening to the discussion of parasympathetic response made me wonder whether music that imitates a heartbeat can impact people in this same way. I am thinking specifically of Strauss's "Death and Transfiguration". People that do not know the title may not be aware that the timpani is a man's heartbeat. This made me think of three possible test groups:

1. People that have no awareness of the intent of the timpani
2. People that know the timpani represents a heartbeat
3. People that know that the timpani/heartbeats are the final beats of a man's life

Does anyone know if any study like this has been done?

May. 30 2015 05:34 PM
Bob Hansman from SC

This is an interesting example of the power that music can have on people, specifically drums in this piece. The drums gave me a sense of foreboding, of threat. I wonder if fewer people would have had physical symptoms without them.

May. 30 2015 03:53 PM
Ashley from Vancouver

Thanks for such a great episode! I had the same reaction while listening to the podcast as many other listeners (I call it "feeling squeamish": light-headed, my limbs felt weak, I got very hot and a bit nauseated), and I had to switch to a different podcast for the rest of my bus ride home. My reaction didn't surprise me--I get light-headed at the sight of blood (especially my own), when hearing about an invasive medical procedure, and even sometimes when I read about them. My grandfather and uncle are also famous in the family for fainting at the sight of blood, and I've always wondered if there's a genetic component. Your discussion of the parasympathetic nervous system makes me feel less crazy!

May. 29 2015 12:15 PM
Elaine Ellerton from Seattle

I had no reaction, but I am curious if anyone noticed their animals freaking out? One of my dogs was a wreck. She tried to squeeze herself between the toilet and the shower while I was showering and then followed me around, cowering, for about 10 minutes afterwards. I played it again for my mom and she did the same thing. A 50 lb scaredy-dog.

May. 27 2015 01:58 PM
Jonathan from San Francisco

Fascinating!I am so interested in reading all the comments of people who had a physical reaction to this podcast. I was on the train on the way to work listing to this podcast as I tend to do on my commute, and I suddenly felt my blood pressure just drop. I got light headed and wobbly and had to get off at the next stop and sit down. I thought I was just feeling the stress of my job and the exhaustion of parenthood. I soon felt better and got on the next train where I continued to listen and then heard the stories of people in the audience. I was shocked (and also a little relieved). I never thought of myself as someone who would be affected this way, but am crazy curious right now. As soon as I got to my desk I logged on here to see if others had felt the same way while listening to the podcast, and of course, there was. This is just so interesting to me. I knew I love listing to Radiolab, but never thought it would literally make me swoon!

May. 27 2015 12:46 PM
M C Ertem from DC

Here it is

May. 27 2015 11:16 AM
M C Ertem from DC

As the child of a cardiologist (my father wrote textbook chapters on heart sounds and ECG) I thoroughly enjoyed this segment.

There was a great 1980's movie with Donald Sutherland as a heart surgeon: Threshold.

May. 27 2015 10:36 AM
Stef from Boston

OH MY GOD! I felt so sick and nauseous the whole time and thought it was just me until the end. Ugh.

Great story though!

May. 26 2015 03:17 PM
ronah from Illinois

Another good episode. Anyone who has had artificial heat valve replacement has gone thru similar surgery PLUS has the metallic clicking of the valve with no recourse...except dying. One either adjusts or has difficult bouts with the sound. Similar sensations can happen in ears of some people frequently as well.
Dr Sacks, thank him for his lifelong sharing of his knowledge and curiosity with the public and thanx to your show and others who have shared his research. Last, his self-experiments to me were risky if not reckless and could have cut short his brilliant career and life. He should've been wiser, more careful, and fearful.

May. 26 2015 02:10 PM
MM from Atlanta

I just listened to this podcast last week while I was on my way to a doctor's appointment. I'm pregnant and I was on my way to get my glucose test. While stuck in traffic, I started to feel really sick. I broke out in sweats, my heart started racing, and I had to fight back the urge to vomit. I turned the podcast off so I could focus on driving the last mile to my doctor's office.
The doctor told me it's not unusual to feel sick after drinking the glucose drink, so I didn't think much of it, and I didn't put the podcast back on until a few days later. That's when I heard the end of the story and how some people got sick during the live show. I'm sure my anxiety was already high due to the high levels of sugar I had just ingested, but I definitely experienced similar symptoms while listening to the podcast.
Thanks for always providing such great content. You should have a show dedicated to the parasympathetic response.

May. 26 2015 10:30 AM
Kristen Cavagnet from Galway, Ireland

I found this podcast so interesting. I never knew it was a "thing" to be frazzled by a heart beat. I know the sight of blood can make people faint but just listening to it was a shock for me. Because I thought it was only me. When I was about 10 yrs old I developed a fear of swallowing and also a fear that I would stop breathing and my heart would stop. Those fears took over my life and I became what the doctors only described as anorexia. Which to me was a completely foreign word with a meaning that had nothing to do with how I was feeling. If I only met the doctor you interviewed then it might have eased my recovery and helped me along the way. Still to this day I get frazzled when I hear people's heart beats, also when I hear people breathing. It makes me nervous and conscious of my own heart and lungs. I am now 32 and have learned to cope with this fear but I am now happy to know it is not only me! Thanks for all your work Radio Lab I truly enjoy your podcasts!!

May. 26 2015 06:59 AM
Gabriel from Los Angeles, California

Great story here. Really well told. I remember when I had my third open heart surgery and they replaced my aorta valve with an On-X valve, my doctor had mentioned you'd MIGHT be able to hear it if it was quiet enough to hear a pin drop. Yeah, not so much. Instead, a couple days after the surgery when my surgeon came to visit me to see how I was doing it, he was like, "Wow, sounds like the crocodile in "Peter Pan." My first week back at work I was in the elevator and someone looked up and around and said, "Do you hear that? Sounds like a bomb." In a movie theater, during a very tense, quiet scene in the movie, the people sitting next to me kept looking over. Afterward, a woman said, "Your watch is really loud." I held up my hands and showed her, "I'm not wearing a watch."
It gets louder when I get excited and faster when I get excited (and yup, even in bed), so much so that I literally wear my heart on my sleeve. I can never be in a horror movie because I'd never be able to hide from the killer. And I don't think I'd ever be able to meditate in a room full of monks because they'd probably kick me out.

It's been 10 years since my surgery, and my heart still keeps me up at night. And I'm still always aware of it. And people still hear it when I'm standing next to them. I've lived my entire life super aware of my heart, literally, physically, emotionally. It's a tough thing to deal with, but like you've come to realize, also an amazing thing to deal with.

Friends would joke that I'm a delicate flower because being on blood thinners I can bruise so easily at times. And I used to agree with them. But now, after surviving three open heart surgeries...I realized, I'm indestructible. :)

May. 25 2015 04:43 PM
Karen Hamilton from Denver

I was driving while listening and had to struggle to keep listening while driving. The heart beats and percussion to accentuate them made my chest hurt and I did feel a little nauseous, I guess. It's a difficult sensation to describe. I am not afraid of blood or guts but occasionally my heart does a fast set of beats which is uncomfortable and a few months ago I experienced a moment called a cardiac artery spasm. It felt like bad heart burn but I landed in the hospital. I don't want to experience it again. I don't think that experience is WHY the heart beats made me me anxious and gritting my teeth to begin with, but I certainly had to talk myself down from thinking I was having the heartburn sensation after a few minutes of the sounds on the podcast. I think the sound put me right into the woman's situation and so no imagination was needed to experience the discomfort and plain weirdness of the intensity of the heartbeats within her chest. The ending was excellent for me because I too had an echocardiogram and saw the miracle of my heart (part of the echo is on my phone- imagine that!) and so, as with the heart beating, I completely related to the awe and gratitude she felt for her heart.

May. 25 2015 01:31 AM
Zach from Spokane, WA

So, I can't remember ever fainting before - but just this morning, I was at work while listening to this episode (after glibly ignoring and even scoffing at the warning at the top) and by half way in I noticed that I was reacting differently than normal - and I listen to a lot of radio and podcasts, tough topics are my cup of tea - I remember thinking to myself that I was feeling very sympathetic, then all of a sudden I was sweaty and nauseous. My breathing and heartbeat seemed totally out-of-sync. I finished the task at hand and took a moment to collect myself, leaning over the counter where I work.

Next thing I remember I was thinking how much better I felt except for the sudden pain in the back of my head, and then I took in my surroundings and realized I was lying on my back on the floor of my laboratory. I hopped up and looked around while assessing myself. I seemed to be recovering from some sort of shock, but felt okay. In sync.

I don't think anyone noticed (my coworkers are all in another room and despite the large glass window are usually oblivious to my presence), so unless there's a reason for management to review the video footage of my workstation no one will ever be the wiser.

Incidentally, the example of parasympathetic nervous response given -that of fainting at the sight of blood - seemed especially ironic since I work at a blood plasma donation center.

May. 24 2015 06:51 PM
Lisa from Chicago

My daughter and I were listening to this podcast as I was driving, and she was in the backseat. She'd been fine right before hearing Summer's heartbeat, when all of a sudden she said she didn't feel so well and asked me to turn it off. She ended up vomiting at 65 mph. Luckily we had an empty shopping bag in the back seat. It was the strangest thing. She was fine immediately afterwards.

Once we got home, I listened to the rest of the episode on my own. Thank you for including the followup!

May. 23 2015 10:05 PM
Sarah from Washington, DC

I have had the same surgery that Summer described -- unless she also had her aortic semi-lunar valve replaced and it wasn't mentioned, this is called valve-sparing aortic root replacement. It also sounds like she had an extensive section of her ascending aorta replaced. For any who might be curious, it is a sheath of Dacron that gets planted in the heart and the existing tissue gets stretched back around it. Summer's own tissue has grown up the inside of the graft over time.

I have also had the same "intense beating" that Summer described and was the main feature of the piece. My reaction listening to it was entirely different to most people's (apparently). My reaction was along the lines of "I am completely unsurprised that this happened to her. Her cardiologist and/or her surgeon were not doing their due diligence in preparing her". I was also thinking "there is a substantial amount of anecdotal information on the web about this as well as a small but reasonable collection of peer-reviewed literature about this phenomenon. I am surprised that an engineer who photo-chronicled her own surgery didn't delve into that".

I was also unsurprised that people threw up and passed out. My mother is a psychology professor and teaches a course on attitudes towards death and dying. The topics she covers include (among many others) the full range of potential abortion procedures. She is describing them in straight-forward clinical detail without being salacious or extreme, but over the years she has had a number of students faint or leave the room to vomit (though the vast majority of the class is able to focus and take notes). This parasympathetic counterbalancing is common for when experiencing visceral descriptions.

May. 22 2015 08:09 AM
Jaap van der Velde from The Hague, The Netherlands

As soon as you issued the warning that the piece might affect the public in a particular way and I knew it was about heart and blood, I knew what I was in for. I've experienced this a number of times, although never before I was about 22.

The first time I was listening to a good friend detailing the heart operation her uncle had just had, a man I don't even know. But the details of the story caused me to imagine the heart as it was being operated on and I fainted right there, at the restaurant table.

A number of times later occurred when I would think of my mother's last moments, because she died of heart failure. Her last words were "I don't feel so well", spoken to her neighbor, who just happened to work at the nearby hospital and who tried his very best to save her life. Imagining how her heart must have felt and what caused her to speak up always gets me and frequently causes my sight to fade and I'll need to sit down. I don't like thinking of it for obvious reasons, but sometimes the thought will just intrude on me and affect me.

This story wasn't as bad, but I did have to sit down and very consciously disconnect myself. Tell myself "it's just a radio show, she's healthy and sitting there and her heart is fine, they are just talking, there's no need to visualize what you are hearing." over and over.

Oddly, I love horror movies and they never have this effect, but TV footage of open heart surgery or sometimes foot or hand surgery will have a weak but similar effect. Just pictures don't affect me as much as moving images or stories.

I love your show and the effect is both scary and fascinating, so thanks for paying it some attention.

May. 21 2015 10:31 AM
Markus from London

I was on the train listening to this and I almost fainted, I felt all my blood rush back to my core. I became really anxious and then really woozy. I had to stop the podcast, regroup and then carry on.

I was so pleased to hear the explanation after the piece. It was REALLY affecting listening.

May. 21 2015 09:06 AM
Denise from Brea

I too, was listening to the podcast as driving, and I got very anxious. It was difficult to decide to turn it off or keep listening because I was so fascinated by it all. I turned the volume way down and would turn it up as someone was speaking. I have a slow heart beat on average 50/min, by adopted daughter has a faster one about 85/min, when she was a baby, I would try to sleep on the couch with her sleeping on my chest. Every time I put her heart to heart, my heart would freak out. Her heart beat made me anxious and it felt like her heart beat was trying to change my heart beat, and make it go faster. It was such a strange sensation. If I moved her off center all was fine. She is now a teenager, so I haven't thought about it in years until hearing your heart again. Very strange reaction from radio (I thought I needed to feel the different heart beat together, not just hear it - although feeling it did make the situation more intense).

May. 20 2015 04:23 PM
Lindsey from California

I listened to this while driving home from work. Mind you, I work as a nurse in a burn center. Yes, a burn center. Burned people, adults to children, with horrific injuries that range from gelatinous blisters to charred crispy skin. I love my job. You would think I would be immune to the effects of Molly's ominous heartbeat. But when she held the mic to her chest my palms got a little sweaty and I wanted to blow chunks all over my windshield. But I put mind over matter and soldiered on. I actually used to have a history of fainting and or vomiting when I first became a nurse, but being desensitized to my environment has made it pretty much a non-issue now. I didn't hear the warning at the beg. of the show so was caught totally caught me off-guard! Love it!

May. 20 2015 12:53 PM
Christyn from NYC

Amazing podcast, as usual, but I also had an intense visceral reaction to it. I had to get off of the wrong stop on the subway because I thought I was going to vomit and faint on the train. After I sat down for a few minutes and had some water, I felt a lot better. I've never had such a reaction to a radio show before. I did think it was excellent storytelling, you know, before the nausea!

May. 20 2015 08:08 AM
Lara from Connecticut

I was listening to this podcast at work yesterday. My brows furrowed when I heard the warning. However, as soon as the premise was explained I knew what would happen. I have been the "victim" of empty-induced fainting, anxiety, and the like. This story was very interesting. It was great to learn some of the science behind the reactions that I and others experience.

Thankfully I was not hyper-focused on the show and with the warning I was able to combat my reactions and continue listening. I'm glad that I was not driving or just listening in bed because I'm positive that I would have lost consciousness.

A few years ago I was with my friends, who were all getting new piercings (hey, that's what you do in college, right?). I was watching my friend get her eyebrow pierced and feeling fine about it, I thought it was pretty cool actually. Next thing I know I feel my blood pressure drop and I lower myself to the floor while I slur out "I'm about to pass out." Everyone in the parlor responded quickly and after I was out of danger of fainting they all had a good laugh and I was added to the "woozy wall," which was especially great because I wasn't even having anything done!
Funny thing is that I was there making an appointment for my first tattoo and when I went back to get it I had no problem at all!

A few songs out there have a heartbeat as a bass. I know if I'm really listening I can get light-headed.

Anyway, I add my voice to those who are suggesting making the warning clearer than it is. I know you want to keep the suspense, but I think this situation may call for more caution.

May. 19 2015 11:55 PM
Chris Chester from Washington D.C.

By some coincidence, I also had open heart surgery a couple years ago for an aortic aneurysm, which was also 5 inches in diameter. Heart buddies!

I had another surgery 8 years prior to have a mechanical heart valve put in, so I was already used to the sound my heart makes — which is generally more of a clicking sound. In quiet rooms people often ask if I am hiding a watch in my pocket.

But the more recent surgery definitely gave me a very similar experience to what Summer describes — an intense thumping that often drives me to distraction, especially when trying to go to sleep. The difference, I suppose, is that I was already used to it making a sound, so I was never weirded out about it. The part of the story that made people pass out, I was chuckling and saying to myself: "She sounds like she just has general anxiety about her heart condition... it's not a big deal."

If anybody should have had a sympathetic response, it was me, but alas.

May. 19 2015 04:53 PM
Jennifer from Kentucky

I was fascinated by the scientific evaluation of why people fainted...but I'm curious how this idea would extend to an experience I observed. About maybe 10 years ago, Chuck Palanik was touring and reading a story called "Guts" to a live audience. It was documented in reviews of his appearances that the same response was occurring as with your live podcast...about 1/2 a dozen folks would pass out at every reading. The common reasoning was that it was, to put it lightly, a very visceral story. At the time, I worked for Brighton Festival in the UK, and we invited him to do the reading, and because we were a Festival, he had to take it up a notch. We invited a band who performed techno music with heavy and slow base beat, and we had big screens projecting images of colors and such. As Chuck began reading, the audience collectively swooned. If my memory serves me correctly, only 1/4 of the audience was still standing at the end of the reading. I've never seen a room empty so fast. It's still a matter of pride for me that I didn't even feel woozy. Still a parasympathetic response?

May. 19 2015 04:49 PM
Chris Westerfield from United States

I was on a plane listening and almost passed out as well. In the past i have not been squeamish about blood, so I'm not sure if that was this issue. I did have a feeling of dread and uneasiness. I would be really intrigued to find out the explanation for why this happened.

May. 19 2015 07:12 AM
Cristina from Long Island, NY

I listened to this story on my phone as a podcast on the train on the way home last night. I have to tell you it was undoubtedly the most uncomfortable and anxiety ridden radio listening experience I have ever had. I was squirming in my seat, had a sense I was going to pass out, and was very, very anxious throughout the story and especially during the drumming/listening period. I almost had to turn off the podcast, but thought it was ridiculous that I was having that reaction. Wanted you to know in case you are tracking how many of us had that extreme empathic reaction. It was extremely uncomfortable.

May. 19 2015 06:49 AM
Eric Work from San Francisco, CA

During the part where Summer puts her heart next to the mic I didn't hear a single thing. It almost sounded like dead air. I was in the car so I played it again using the phone speaker instead of using bluetooth to the car speakers and I still heard nothing at all. I had to play the audio track again on my desktop computer with the speakers turned up to even hear anything. I was contemplating loading the waveform in an audio editor to see if there was really something there. I've never had trouble hearing anything before that I'm aware of other than high pitch sounds now that I'm older. I find it strange so many had a physical reaction while I had almost the opposite.

May. 19 2015 02:01 AM
Daniel from Boston

While I was listening to the story, I checked my pulse, and it was synced perfectly with the heartbeats in the audio. But that didn't make me feel faint, because it was a perfectly fine, calm heart rate. In fact, I had a hard time relating to how she felt in the story when I could hear that she wasn't panicky telling it. She was talking about her heart telling her brain that there was danger, but I could hear her heart telling my brain that everything was okay.

I think the evolutionary advantage of the parasympathetic response is that it makes you cool and collected in the face of danger, and fainting is just because 4% of the bell curve of responses is strong enough to be problematic, while evolution strikes a balance between people fainting and people freaking out.

May. 18 2015 11:19 PM
Melinda from Indiana

Çan't imagine how it would have been live, but listening to the Podcast, as So Percussion was coming to the crescedno, I had to start taking Deep breaths, felt like a panic attack.

Do so hope things will get better for Summer.

May. 18 2015 11:14 PM
Anna from United States

Radiolab, I love you, but this episode was irresponsible. While this was- as always- a beautifully crafted episode, the warning at the beginning was insufficient. I listened to The Heartbeat while driving with my mother who was, thankfully, in the passenger seat. As the podcast reached its most intense moments, she said she wasn't feeling well and lost consciousness. I was midway through dialing 911 when she came to, but she was groggy for hours. It was absolutely terrifying.

This episode literally has the potential to kill someone. What if she had been behind the wheel when she fainted? A stronger warning at the beginning would have been the responsible thing to do. As a long time listener, I am disappointed and disturbed that more thought wasn't given to the safety of those listening to a visceral and challenging episode.

May. 18 2015 10:23 PM
George from Arizona

We were driving from Flagstaff to Phoenix. Luckily I was in the driver's seat. My wife fainted for the first time in 40 years. I listened to the rest of it today and was amazed to find this to be a known possible response. My wife, though, was relieved to find out that she doesn't have something wrong with her.

May. 18 2015 10:13 PM
George from Arizona

We were driving from Flagstaff to Phoenix. Luckily I was in the driver's seat. My wife fainted for the first time in 40 years. I listened to the rest of it today and was amazed to find this to be a known possible response. My wife, though, was relieved to find out that she doesn't have something wrong with her.

May. 18 2015 10:12 PM
Cara from Rochester, NY

I listened to this podcast while driving and I should of heeded the warning before the podcast because I nearly passed out! I felt light headed, a constriction in my chest, and just uneasy in general. I'm a biologist so I'm comfortable listening to medical procedures and information about human bodies. However, I think the percussion band scoring the piece (who, despite my reaction, did a fantastic job!) evoked a strong emotional response because you felt like you were right there, enthralled in the situation with Summer. I wonder if people's response would differ if no percussion band were playing. Anyway, the show was interesting and great as always, despite almost passing out!

May. 18 2015 04:11 PM

I listened to this on headphones in my cubicle at work. I felt it! A little anxious, a little warm and light headed when it was played for the audience. Almost like my own heart was trying to match the rhythm. Thanks for sharing this tale.

May. 18 2015 04:05 PM

Summer, I hear your pain! and heart! I have the same issue, my heart wakes me up! we need to talk!

May. 18 2015 02:55 PM
Nina Lohman Cilek from Iowa City

At first he just rocked back and forth in his seat for a bit. But then, my husband left a crowded theater during a live taping of THE MOTH and I assumed he was sick. I secretly wondered if it would be bad form for me to just send him home and stay for the remainder of the knock-out show at the Englert Theater. But at the end of the story my husband returned and said he was okay. The storyteller, a physician, had carefully recalled his mother's death from cancer, specifically when the doctors misplaced a port in her chest. The details were too much for my husband and he felt himself begin to faint. The power of a well told story, apparently, can shake our bodies as well as our hearts and minds.

May. 18 2015 01:16 PM
Susan from Corvallis, Oregon

I was only half listening to this episode while playing scrabble online. I started to feel short of breath and almost stopped the episode but then it ended. When I heard that audience members had physical reactions, I realized I wasn't having a heart attack after all.

May. 17 2015 11:07 PM
Renae from Pomona, Australia

I have also had a strange empathetic response when listening to someone tell a medical story. An elderly woman was telling me about going for a scan where they inject the dye into your body first so they can see how the blood moves about. I am not squeamish, I don't get sick or feel faint at the sight of blood or anything like that, but while listening to her story I felt very engaged in what she was saying. As she described the uncomfortable feeling of the dye coursing through her body, I felt like I was feeling it too - much like the lady who works for Latino USA described at the end of this story. It was like the description of what was happening to her body was so visceral that I was caught in her moment. I felt quite faint, went pale and got the kind of spots appearing in the eyes and had to sit down for quite a while. Now I have never fainted before or since this happened but I often think about it and my best understanding of my body and the kind of person I am is that I was experiencing overwhelming empathy for this elderly woman. I felt like I was her when she told the story and it was too much for my real body to cope with. This is the first time I have heard about this kind of reaction being discussed and I am glad to know it happens to others!
Love, love, love the show!!

May. 17 2015 09:16 PM
Jeff Halverson from Tokyo, Japan

When this episode started, and I heard the warning to not drive while listening, my first reaction was of disbelief that society has become so cautious that we need warning for listening to podcasts.
It was listening on my iPhone while commuting by train here in Tokyo and it was a beautiful spring day, albiet with a hint of humidity in the air. While the training did not seem overly crowded, while listening to the podcast I started to sweat a bit and feel light-headed. It got the the point that I realized it was the podcast, not the heat or the humidity, and I was tempted to step off the train at the next stop or to turn off the podcast. I stuck with it, and got through the podcast, but I must admit I am a bit amazed at my body's reaction to this.
I have also fainted a couple times in the past when giving blood for the yearly health checks we have here in Japan. It does not happen because I see blood, because I look away. It appears to be totally in my mind that thinking about these internal body functions makes me light headed.

May. 17 2015 08:46 PM
Katie from Philadelphia

like many others, this interview caused my blood pressure to drop. It wasn't the heartbeat, but the description by Summer of her open heart surgery. I began to sympathize the experience and visualize my own heart flattened and still. I was alone in my studio and turned off the podcast to come back out of it. Typically fine dealing with my own blood and pain (lots of tattoos, lots of cut fingers in the art studio), I find that I'm most likely to faint when seeing or hearing about something happening to someone else. The 'knockout' incidents that went viral last year caused the same reaction. I'm a new listener and I love this podcast, but I agree that a more concise warning at the beginning of this podcast would be a good idea.

May. 17 2015 11:43 AM
Patrice Showers Corneli from Salt Lake City

I enthralled by this podcast - I don't know I'm a biologist - but as the show went on I became so frightened for her and me and pretty much could not eat dinner. Neither could I turn my iPod off.

Then she talked about the sonogram of her heart which thrilled her and removed her fear. I began to relax too. I saw a dye moving through my heart a few years ago in sort of a live moving x-ray - I had thought something was wrong with me.

That is when, for me, I was so fascinated to see my heart working, so beautifully as I was feeling the beats myself, that I almost cried. It was wonderful to see how hard and constantly it worked.

Thanks for the story that reminded me of my own experience.

May. 16 2015 07:33 PM
B. from Edmonton Alberta

This was a great piece, but dangerous one - literally. I felt a tight feeling in my chest, I couldn't breath properly; it was like I had fluid in my lungs or something. figured it was a micro panic attack so, like many here, I had to stop listening for a bit. Really Powerful stuff. I feel like y'all could do a show on the public's reaction to this.

May. 16 2015 06:05 PM
Will from TEXAS

I also got light-headed the longer the beats went on. I had to pause it and walk away for a little bit, about 5 minutes and lay down.

I felt like vomiting and I felt like crying.

I'm glad I wasn't alone with this reaction.

I after the spell passed, I went back to the podcast and I was OK.

May. 16 2015 11:58 AM
Brando from RVA

The heartbeat sounds made me very anxious the longer they went on. I was quite close to shutting off the podcast after awhile but pushed through. I just wanted the beats to stop! When they didn't stop, and kept not stopping, I started to get a bit queasy too. My chest tightened and I started feeling flushed. Took me a good 15 minutes to calm down after the story ended.

I have issues with anxiety in general, mostly social, but this is the first time I've become aware that the sound of a heartbeat could trigger it. Even now after the full podcast has finished I'm sitting here feeling strange every time my mind wanders to my own heart. I've also recently become aware that I may have a "blood thing" as well. Had a random nosebleed the other week and nearly vomited thinking about it. I'm sure this heartbeat business is related.

May. 16 2015 04:21 AM
Suzanne from Australia

This is so interesting. I too felt anxious listening to the heartbeat, but not to the point of fainting. A suggestion from left-field: could it be related to a somatic memory of a traumatic experience in the womb related to our mother's heartbeats?

May. 16 2015 03:32 AM
Philip Nel from Kansas, United States

P.S. In answer to your "heart songs" question, here are some thematically appropriate ones that (unless I missed them) didn't make your playlist:
• Deee-Lite, “Groove Is in the Heart”
• The Avett Brothers, “Kick Drum Heart”
• Beck, “Heart Is a Drum”
• Old 97’s, “Murder (or a Heart Attack)”
• Sarah Hickman’s cover of “Hello, I Am Your Heart”
• Elton John & Kiki Dee, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” (or, better, The Mr. T. Experience’s cover of this song)
• The Blue Belles, “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman”
• Hafdis Huld, “My Heart Beats”
• The Secret Sisters, “My Heart Skips a Beat”
• Otis Redding, “Pain in My Heart”
• Moby, “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad”
• The Isley Brothers, “This Old Heart of Mine”
• U2, “Two Hearts Beat as One”
• Noah and the Whale, “2 Bodies 1 Heart"

May. 15 2015 05:05 PM
John Koenig from United States

The fainting - i'll bet it was vagovasal, which I suffer from. I listened to this on the podcast, and just fast forwarded to the end because I figured I would go down. I don't go for the sympathetic response stuff - look up vasovagal.

May. 15 2015 02:46 PM
Tom from Columbus, OH

I've had a heart mumur since birth.. This episode was really stressful :(

May. 15 2015 02:42 PM
Philip Nel from Kansas, United States

I planned to listen to this podcast while fixing and then while eating my lunch, but the “Heartbeat” story was so overwhelming I actually stopped preparing lunch. I began pacing around, needing to hear the end of the story (I had to know that Summer Ash was going to be OK!) but also wishing I had not started listening to the story (it was too much!). I became acutely aware of my own heart, and identified so closely with Summer that I, too, felt trapped in my own body. When I wasn’t pacing, I stood in and facing a corner of the room, holding myself. I tend to dismiss content warnings and hadn’t realized — indeed, never imagined — that a radio story could create such intense physical and emotional discomfort.

Once “Heartbeat” finished, I calmed down enough to finish making lunch and then to listen to the explanation of why audience members responded so strongly. For me, sympathy was the answer. The heartbeat did, I think, create that kind of intimacy with Summer. But I am also a person who sometimes over-sympathizes (if that’s the right expression?). I have great difficulty watching scenes of embarrassment because I feel embarrassed on the character’s behalf. In those situations, too, I will get up, move away from the TV, stand in the doorway, only half-seeing the picture. And then I return when the embarrassment scene is over.

So, my natural disposition combined with the amplified heartbeat made this episode an acutely uncomfortable experience.

May. 15 2015 02:36 PM
Lisa from Salem, MA

I have a panic disorder. I have a panic attack most days. I became shaky listening to this episode. It didn't really feel like a panic attack though. Maybe because I was in my kitchen making a pie at the time. I was just shaky and squirmy and I wanted the music to to stop. I could not have listened while driving and I am pretty sure I would have freaked out at the live showing.
When Summer described the connection she felt to her beating heart after seeing it, I was moved. It reminded me of a quote, "I don't have a body, but rather I am a body." It's both a comforting and frightening thought. You have to be good to your body and hope that it's good to you in return. You are one.
I was sad to hear about Oliver Sacks. I've learned so much from him over the years. I wish him peace on his journey.

May. 15 2015 02:01 PM
Julie from Los Angeles

I was listening to this segment driving on the way home from work. As the story progressed and the heart just kept beating I started to feel myself getting more and more anxious, particularly when the drum beating started to get more intense. I have never fainted in my life and I am a nurse so I don't squirm easily, but this segment caused an intense anxiety to wash over my whole being. My whole body felt tingly, kind of like how one feels when riding an extremely high roller coaster that's about to drop. I had trouble finding my breath, but as the story progressed and the protagonist came to a sense of resolution, I felt such a great sense of relief. I hadn't connected it to the fact that I was feeling sympathetic symptoms to what she was describing, though it seemed obvious once your guest psychologist explained. I was overwhelmed to hear that countless others experienced the same reaction I did. Great segment, though I fear it might have been unsafe for those listening while driving.
Also, could you put the name of the psychologist you featured? Perhaps along with a link to some literature describing the scientific reasoning behind the intense reaction that she explained on the show?

May. 15 2015 12:34 PM
Nathan from Claremont, CA

My girlfriend fainted while driving on the freeway after listening to a portion of this podcast. I was in the passenger seat and was able to assist her to the side of the highway before she completely passed out for about 5 seconds. Had she been driving alone she could have caused an accident. It was a strange and scary experience. She's in her 30's and doesn't have any medical conditions. I love Radiolab but they may want to beef up the warning or pull this one because it seems to be causing a significant blood pressure drop in many people. DO NOT listen to this episode while driving!

May. 15 2015 08:59 AM

One of the most beautiful, precious radio shows I've ever listened to - so open, honest and spontaneous and with just the right touch of humor. It was gracefully real, and it worked. It made me feel happy and connected. Here I am one morning, feeling pretty nihilistic about the cosmos in general, and a heart starts speaking to me - first through human voices and then finally in the heart's own native language. I could be wrong, but I don't think artists and scientists will ever translate that language. We can listen to a beating heart and understand, but there is no translation.

May. 15 2015 01:07 AM
Margaret from Detroit

When I heard the content warning, I thought it was pointing more towards emotional rather than physical. I continued to drive not thinking or worrying about the physical aspect. I can't stand to hear people talk about blood. I start to feel faint and nauseated. Thankfully can stand the sight of blood, watch open heart surgery with great fascination, see people get shots, or even witness wound dressing changes with no problem.

Oddly enough I was okay throughout the podcast. I don't know if it's being a musician or hospice music therapist that the heart beat part didn't bother me. It was quite comforting because I'm dealing with a similar issue. My own heart sometimes pounds just laying there at night. More recently I've had heart palpitations at regular intervals that have been driving me nuts. For that time during the podcast, I was aware that my heart was beating and feeling normal. It was nice.

May. 14 2015 06:29 PM
Stevin Gertel from Denver, CO

I see that it has already been covered by a few commenters, but since you were hoping to learn how the heartbeat piece may have affected headphone listeners, I thought I would vouch for being one of those affected by it. I was on a long walk while listening.

I'm very glad the warning at the beginning was ambiguous – my first thought was that perhaps there were some accompanying graphic photos of the surgery, or that the verbal description of the open heart surgery was what caused people to feel uncomfortable. Once that portion passed, I let my guard down and sort of forgot about the warning.

Then, when the heartbeat portion began, I started feeling a bit anxious. Panicky. I didn't connect the dots in the moment. I started feeling like I had forgotten to do something important, like those dreams where you suddenly realize you forgot to attend one of your classes for an entire semester and the final is today. Rather than feeling the intense empathy for Summer's situation as some listeners describe, I found myself thinking inwardly, almost tuning out the story for a moment and suddenly experiencing anxiety about my own issues.

It seemed very strange to me, that I would get an intense burst of panic at that moment regarding seemingly trivial things. But I was able to brush it off and finish the story. It was only after the story concluded, and the reason for the warning was revealed in more detail, that I finally connected the dots.

I think I experienced in real-time the phenomenon described in the piece – about the anxiety-inducing feedback loop Summer's racing heart forced her into experiencing day after day. My brain recognized the frenzied heartbeat and deduced that there must be a snake, RUN!

That's my take on it, anyway. I really enjoyed this cast on a surface level, but the psychological / physiological aspect of it really made it something else.

May. 14 2015 02:31 PM
Nate from Columbus

I listened to this episode while driving home from work. I tend to ignore content warnings at the start of episodes since there isn't a whole lot that phases me. I work in the healthcare field, and a big part of my job job involves blood draws and processing blood samples. I'm around it all the time and I'm not phased by it.

However, I found myself profoundly affected by the heart beat. I actually didn't mind the portion speaking about the open heart surgery--I've watched open brain surgeries myself and find them nothing else other than fascinating. However, the portion speaking about her heartbeat, and how she could see it. I began feeling very, very strange, and had to fast-forward this portion of the show to make sure my ability to drive wouldn't be impaired. I'm actually having a reaction just thinking about it right now.

I was upset at first, and thought it was irresponsible to publish such an episode. But when the curtain was pulled back, and it turns out the episode had pivoted to cover just that sort of reaction, I was very impressed. From then on it was interesting to hear about.

I remember having a similar reaction when I heard about my uncle realizing he had tachycardia by seeing his nametag on his shirt fluttering quickly with his too-fast heart. It is exactly that image of the failing heart, the life-giving organ betraying you, that I think gives me the reaction. I have no problem actually seeing blood or dealing with it, it is specifically related to the beating of the heart. I also have a similar reaction to the thought of blood being siphoned out of me (I can't give blood because of this) but I have no problem watching other people get blood draws.

Perhaps it was a bit of a risky episode to air, but maybe it was worth it.

May. 14 2015 01:34 PM
BJ Nicholls from United States

So where's the science in this piece? It sounds like she may have suffered with a form of agnosia and that seeing the image of her heart helped to sort out that problem of perception and body image. Oliver sacks has written about similar disorders and cures. It's unfortunate you couldn't connect the Heartbeat sequence with the interview with Dr. Sacks.

May. 14 2015 12:43 PM
Vivianne from NYC

This was an incredible episode and a great example of why I love Radiolab as much as I do- surprising us all with an unanticipated ending to an enigmatic story.

I listened to this podcast as I was commuting and somehow missed the warning another commenter mentioned above. As I was listening to Summer's story, especially when she described how she began counting her heartbeats, I became very queasy and felt faint. My legs started shaking, and my stomach lurched a bit. If I had not already been sitting I am certain I would have fainted myself. I was so entranced by Summer's story I didn't want to stop listening although I felt the urge to. I was completely blown away at the turn of the segment to hear other listener's felt the same way. Excellent segment!

May. 14 2015 11:35 AM
Teri from Seattle

I felt the percussion and heartbeat added tremendously to the story - connecting me emotionally to Summer and her experiences. Following the warning at the beginning I did sit down in order to listen.
Another excellent segment!

May. 13 2015 10:29 PM
mary beth from Rockaway Beach

We were at this live broadcast and my husband, who suffers from a low vasovagal threshold was the first to go down. We were in the orchestra, and he has what looks like seizure, loses consciousness, then vomits. We got the house EMT, him out of the theatre (he hit the deck first) and then into a wheelchair. Once in the lobby, I begin instructing the EMT as to what to do. Then we find out that about 5 more people went down. Crazy.

May. 13 2015 09:34 PM
Victor Vicente from Brasil

The first part of the podcast really made me sick. I had to stop eating and listening to the episode to recover. I was able to listen the last part of it only five hours later. Such an amazing effect!

May. 13 2015 06:58 PM
Cindi Perrine

I really think you should re-publish this with a stronger warning at the beginning. The first segment was impossible for me to finish. I almost passed out while walking and had to sit down. Given you do not have a captive audience and people could be running/driving/walking while listening - you should have given us a heads up. I started feeling faint as soon as they mentioned opening her chest cavity.

May. 13 2015 06:36 PM

I found the heartbeat to be too overwhelming in this podcast. I felt the urge to leave as well. Luckily, on my iPod, I have a 15 second button and about a third of the way through that story, I began to tap that button. I tapped it until I found the second part of the show. I will never go back to listen to the first half.

The heartbeat rhythm was overused and maddening to listen to. I don't think this just applies to the sound of a heartbeat. Any sound as incessant as that one would be an annoyance to the lisener if overdone.

It was a good story least I think it was. I couldn't finish it.

May. 13 2015 05:44 PM
Anne from Austin, TX

I found the discussion at the end of the first part really fascinating, because I too have felt those same symptoms listening to a podcast. I didn't feel that way listening to the heart beat (perhaps because I was working so I was half-listening). But I have felt dizzy, sick, etc. listening to a segment on this episode of 'this american life': During Act Two a woman describes an event in which she was bitten by a shark (warning: it may make you queasy!) I was riding the bus at the time and thought I might need to get off it had such an effect on me. Anyway, I think this would be an interesting topic in and of itself for radiolab to tackle. Think about it!

May. 13 2015 03:54 PM
Victoria from Los Angeles

During the podcast I got light headed felt like vomiting and like I was going to have a seizure (I have epilepsy). I thought I was sick and almost got off the bus. About halfway through I realized it was the heartbeat. I was about to turn off the podcast, but I wanted to hear the story. I closed my eyes and turned down the volume and that helped.

May. 13 2015 12:33 PM
TFS from United States

I had a similar reaction while listening, where I started to feel anxious and a bit light-headed. I actually got rather irritated with the creators of the segment for continuing the heartbeat and percussion because it was making me completely unable to concentrate on the story and I thought I was going to have to turn it off. Interesting to learn that others had the same experience. I'm partway through the Oliver Sacks portion and still feel a little weird.

May. 13 2015 10:56 AM
OldChicagoPete from United States

I haven't listened to the second part yet, but as I was listening to the first part (while driving) I was thinking that there should have been a warning at the beginning because I was getting very anxious, and thought it might be related to the background heartbeat. Just as I pulled into work I heard that some people in the audience had a similar reaction and that somehow made me feel a bit better about it. :)

Looking forward to hearing the explanation and rest of the show!

May. 13 2015 10:29 AM
Gabi from United States

At the point in the podcast when the woman was describing her heart fluttering her shirt when she was in rehab I got incredibly dizzy and faint and had to stop the podcast. I broke out in a cold sweat and thought i was going to pass out but didn't! It freaked me out! Luckily I was sitting at my desk so I wasn't in any danger of hurting myself. So glad i kept listening to find out that others had the same experience.

May. 13 2015 10:20 AM
Hae from Minneapolis

I also felt sick listening to this podcast! I became anxious and had to turn the podcast off. It was as if my heartbeat was trying to match what I was hearing and I started to feel light-headed.

May. 13 2015 10:10 AM
Peter from Minneapolis

I also experienced light-headedness and queasiness while listening to the heartbeat. I was in my car driving to work and I had to turn off the episode and roll down the windows. I've never felt anything like that before. Great story, but it might have been good to have a more specific warning at the beginning of the episode - I almost had to pull over while driving.

May. 13 2015 10:07 AM
Brooke from Salt Lake City, Utah

Very interesting. I just listened to the first part. I am definitely in the 2% that gets very uncomfortable, lightheaded, panicky, etc. when I hear this type of story.

I don't think it was just the acoustics of the space, or something about a live performance that caused the reaction--because I was driving to work while listening and I almost had to turn it off or pull over because it was making me so anxious and light headed and shaky. So, I completely understand the extreme audience response, and, in fact, it made me feel better to know that others had the same reaction!

Here's the thing -- I didn't WANT to stop listening. It was such a fascinating story and I was empathizing so much with Summer and I wanted to know what was going to happen. But it was definitely an uncomfortable listening experience for me. I had to coach myself through it and tell myself to breathe and focus on driving the whole time.

May. 13 2015 09:56 AM
Adam from Queens

The music from the first story is

May. 13 2015 09:13 AM
Alexander Pomnikow from Melbourne

At 22:35 you say thank you to "soul percussion":.. I think. Is that the artist who's music was use during the first piece? Would love to knew where I can hear some of their work.

May. 13 2015 07:35 AM
Sloppy from Stockholm

I understand that the reaction the audience had was interesting but it seemed to take away from the truly valuable part of the story. This story is a classic example of spiritual awareness. I don't mean some paranormal thingy but very simply, Summer Ash seeing her heart completely changed her perspective; nothing else had changed. It's the awareness that "your heart" is not something you own but is you. You do not know how to beat your heart but you do it and it "does you".
It usually requires a dramatic moment to see past the idea of what we believe we are; the ego. Non verbal research seems to be only used for the deaf or in communication with animals but these experiences are valuable. And sure, we often attempt to explain it away but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. We can explain away most of what we learn as though it were false. Yet, these experiences are difficult to forget for those who have them. There is a reason for that.

May. 13 2015 05:37 AM

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