Ear-Induced Torture: Maddening Noise, Everywhere

Imagine if every sound you heard reverberated right through your brain.

Adrian McLeish could hear a voice in his head. Not just any voice — his own, amplified and distorted, echoing through his skull. But it didn't stop there. Adrian heard every sound in his body. His heart beating in his chest was, at times, deafening. The sound of his own chewing was maddening.

It all began in 1985. British-born McLeish was 35 years old, living in Kassel, Germany and playing French horn in the orchestra there. One day, as he was practicing his horn, he noticed that something felt different.

"I had this strange sensation that I was hearing my horn playing somehow through the inside of my head," McLeish, now 58, said. "The same was true of my voice."

McLeish described the reverberations of his voice as sounding like a cracked loudspeaker or "like somebody humming through a kazoo." In the beginning, they were irritating and constant, but not debilitating.

The Sound Of His Eyes

At first, McLeish, paid little attention to the change, figuring it would eventually just go away. But it didn't. Every day, over a period of months, the sensations grew more intense and more disruptive. He could hear his own footsteps and the sound of his own chewing as he ate. The vibrations of passing cars and trains were nearly intolerable. Even playing his beloved horn became excruciating.

What stopped him in his tracks was the evening he thought he heard a mouse rustling about in the walls. Putting down his book, he rose from bed to inspect for rodents but each time he stopped to listen, the noises stopped as well.

Finally he realized the disturbing truth: There was no mouse. McLeish was hearing the sounds of his own eyes, as they moved back and forth across the pages of his book.

"It was extremely weird," McLeish said. "And unsettling."

McLeish also developed a high-pitched whistling in his ear, a condition known as tinnitus.

But the trouble didn't stop there. Several months after his hearing problems began, McLeish began to be plagued by a new set of symptoms: involuntary eye movements caused by sound.

"I was talking to somebody on the phone," McLeish said. "And when the phone rang on the other end, I noticed that the bookshelves on the other room tipped five degrees in the opposite way."

Any loud noise would cause McLeish's eyes to jerk and throw his balance off. And things only got worse.

"I started to notice that as I spoke, my eyes were jerking with my speech," he said. "If I played a series of notes on the horn, my eyes would jump up and down."

Doctor to McLeish: Drink More Beer

He began to seek out a diagnosis, visiting countless doctors, all seemingly puzzled by his symptoms. One doctor attributed the condition to stress and prescribed tranquilizers. Another told him to drink more beer.

He even consulted a faith healer, who told him that a colleague had placed a demon in his head in order to sabotage his horn playing.

Eventually, McLeish underwent three surgeries, but his condition was once again misdiagnosed and the operations failed. McLeish was beginning to lose hope. He was dealt another blow last year, when the noise finally drove him to stop playing his horn.

"It's difficult when your husband has something like this," his wife Cindy said. "It's difficult to know that he's suffering."

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