My Tell-Tale Heart: Why I Think Edgar Allan Poe May Have Been a Pulsatile Tinnitus Sufferer
On this spooky weekend before Halloween, let's consider the story of one of the most famous poets and storytellers:
Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. Poe lived a short life of forty years. His critics and fans alike wonder what he could've accomplished had he
lived another forty.
I wonder what his writings-to-be may have revealed further about him ... his inner demons,
his emotional turmoil, and perhaps even his physical health.
That's because, by most accounts, Mr. Poe was a
troubled man who lived a short life filled with tragedy. Both of his parents died before he was three years old, one
of his siblings died at a young age and he lived in poverty most of his life.
But then there was his brilliance and
creativity. By the age of five he was reciting poetry. By the age of thirteen he had written enough to publish a book.
His reputation remains creepy, haunting and mysterious, in an intriguing sort of way. I was actually surprised that
he lived a life so short; my impression of him and his writings has always been that of a matured, established writer, but
his legacy of great writings seems to drown the fact that he died much too soon.
In 1848, one year before his
death, he attempted suicide, and, while the exact cause of his death remains a mystery, some believe he killed himself in
1849, at the young age of forty. Forty years of tragedy, depression and irrefutable genius. He wrote stories with
details that readers can, all these years later, hear on the page.
Which brings me to what I've noticed
(er, researched obsessively) as I've surveyed his collection: many of his works have references to sounds that sound
like pulsatile tinnitus.
My interest began after reading (again... I read it a long time ago in school)
one of his most famous pieces: "A Tell-Tale Heart," a fictional story in which the narrator hears a relentless,
beating HEARTBEAT sound that he initially attributes to an old man he later kills, and then, to his conscience. Watch this
(it's a cartoon but it may be too scary for the kiddos):
At one point he even talks about how he fancies a ringing in the ears, but
that THIS sound --the heartbeat sound-- is different from the ringing; and it was not in his ears, but in
"The ringing became more distinct : I talked more freely to get rid of
the feeling: but it continued and gained definitiveness until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.
No doubt I now grew VERY pale; but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased
and what could I do? It was A LOW, DULL, QUICK SOUND MUCH SUCH A SOUND AS A WATCH MAKES WHEN ENVELOPED IN COTTON. I gasped
for breath, and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly, more vehemently but the noise steadily increased.
I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why WOULD
they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men,
but the noise steadily increased. O God! what COULD I do?"
"Villains!" I shrieked,
"dissemble no more! I admit the deed! -- tear up the planks! -- here, here! -- it is the beating of his hideous heart!"
(Click here to read the full text of "A Tell-Tale Heart," in the public domain)
The sound got stronger the more
he focused on it, the more his heart rate increased, and yet the officers who came over could not hear it.
Two and a half years ago, when I realized I was experiencing the symptom of pulsatile tinnitus, I quickly
became interested in how many famous people did as well. For validation? Ok, sure, yes, I'll admit that.
soon figured out that there are long lists of famous people with regular tinnitus (the ringing kind), but pulsatile
tinnitus? Nope, not one. Forget it.
I've accepted the fact that the kind of tinnitus I experience is
rare. Pulsatile tinnitus is NOT regular tinnitus. But now that this site has been up and running for over two years
and we've shared hundreds of stories about pulsatile tinnitus, we know that many of us with pulsatile tinnitus are --not
always, but often-- mistakenly diagnosed as having the regular, more common form of tinnitus --a completely different symptom.
So, I'm sort of obsessed with the possibility --or likelihood-- that some of these "famous tinnitus sufferers"
in fact experience(d) PULSATILE TINNITUS.
My theory is supported, I think, when the sounds that some of these famous
"tinnitus" sufferers describe seem to more accurately describe *pulsatile* tinnitus sounds than regular tinnitus
WHOOSHING, BEATING, PULSING, CLANKING, CREAKING, CLICKING, AND ANY OTHER SOUND THAT IS IN SYNC WITH THE PULSE
Consider another of Poe's works: his poem, "The Bells." When I hear the word "bell"
I think of ringing, but if you read the poem, Mr. Poe doesn't describe the sound as ringing at all… the sounds are
more like swooping, rhythmic bangs of sound. Here is an excerpt:
"… Yet the ear it fully
By the twanging
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows;
the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling
And the wrangling,
How the danger
sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells -
Of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells -
In the clamor and
the clangor of the bells! ..."
So what if Mr. Poe really did experience pulsatile tinnitus?
Well if he did, no one knew it, and it's likely Mr. Poe suffered from a symptom that no one understood back then (they hardly
understand it now!). That would explain his feelings of isolation, no? Some historians believe Mr. Poe committed
suicide, while others believe he suffered from tuberculosis or rabies ... even "brain congestion" has been suggested
as a cause of death. Syphilis was another suspected cause of death, one which interestingly includes pulsatile tinnitus
as a possible symptom.
When Mr. Poe died, pages from what some believe was the last piece of his work were found.
There was no title, and it wasn't complete, but the pages seem to be a short journal describing a man's experience during
a storm on New Year's Day in 1796, titled, "The Light-House."
The narrator briefly comments that he hears some echo in the walls, but then he quickly ignores this and says, as if
he is trying to convince himself, that his worries are "all nonsense."
"It is strange
that I never observed, until this moment, how dreary a sound that word has — “alone”! I could
half fancy there was some peculiarity in the echo of these cylindrical walls — but oh, no! — this
is all nonsense."
Maybe Mr. Poe wasn't crazy or mad. Maybe he heard some of the
same heartbeat-like sounds we hear. It's such a complex sound and sensation to describe, yet he does it so well, doesn't he?
So well that, I believe, he may very well have experienced the sounds himself. But since the outside world
couldn't hear them, he lived a life of denial and shame. It's a possible theory, no?
Like when he wondered if
the walls were creaking in his home? This same home where he isolated himself to, perhaps, cope with an often debilitating
symptom. How many times did you wonder if the sound you hear was in your home? After all, it's much more difficult
to explain or accept that the noise is internal.
The only difference is now, with the help of the Internet, we have this site and a growing network of whooshers
and doctors around the world who understand the symptom: pulsatile tinnitus sufferers no longer have to feel alone.
Since historians agree that Edgar Allan Poe invented the modern detective story, perhaps it's time to reconsider Mr.
Poe's intriguing life and work, his legacy as an artist and how the mystery behind his health and eventual death fit in to
Were the noises really there or were they imagined? Might others have heard them if only they tried?
Could Edgar Allan Poe be the first on our list of Famous People With Pulsatile Tinnitus?
Poll Results: Are You A Whoosher Who Experiences Hyperacusis?
Hyperacusis is an over-sensitivity to or lower tolerance for certain frequencies of sound. These interesting results from our
(albeit non-scientific) poll show that over half of whooshers who responded do experience hyperacusis in
addition to pulsatile tinnitus.
Yes, I also experience hyperacusis. 58% (58 votes)
No, I do not experience hyperacusis. 27% (27 votes)
I'm not sure if I experience hyperacusis.13% (13 votes)
Poll questions are like little pockets of insight into our cases, and our doctors may find them
helpful as well as interesting, so thank you for participating! We have a brand new poll up on the righthand side of
this page... please vote and let your whoosh be heard!
And be sure to see our Poll Results page, where we compile all previous Whooshers.com polls and results.