Doctor, I’m hearing things

Picture from

Picture from

There are empires of sound beyond our hearing.

Bram Stoker never put many words in the mouth of Lucy Westenra, the poor little rich girl who made a perfect match in Dracula, only to be claimed as the Count’s bride. But when Frances Ford Cuppola got hold of the novel – and took outrageous liberties with it – he ended up with something that was not Bram Stoker’s, but something which stood in its own right.

Some of the words from the 1992 film have endured. And the strangest snippets: that moment when Lucy tells Dr Jack Seward how new and unsettling changes are overtaking her against her will.

“I’m changing,” she tells Jack. “I can feel it. I can hear everything. I hear the servants at the other end of the house whispering. I hear mice in the attic stomping like elephants.”

It’s a neat twist, the idea that a vampire might develop acute hearing.  Perhaps we have plundered it from the territory of the superhero and merged stories to suit our thirst for the reworking of the myths that surround the bloodthirsty count and his terrifying abilities.

The weather has been unusually dry and hot here in England. We are all taking out clothes we have not worn for ten years, since the last warm spell. And my son, who was born in the last year we hit 32 degrees just outside London, is experiencing problems he has never encountered before.

At eleven last night, he appeared at the bedroom door, his face crumpled.

Because he could hear everything.

“I can’t sleep,” he told us, distraught. “I keep hearing the mosquitos flying around the room.”

It is many years since I actually heard a mosquito’s tiny insistent airborne wail. I have grown less sensitive to that frequency with age and it lies beyond me forever now. Felix has acute hearing, and he hears them loud and clear. Maybe he is a superhero in waiting.

We made a bed on the middle floor, far from the buzzing creatures who live life  at a frequency which is inaudible to most of us, but raucous to Felix.

At least my son can relocate himself away from the sound.

Not so, Julie Redfern, a 47 year old mother from Lancashire.

For Julie, reports the Daily Mail, it all started when she was playing Tetris, the classic computer game. She heard a strange squeaking noise and couldn’t pinpoint its source. And then, in consteration, she began to realise it was the squeaking of her own eyeballs.

Gradually, Julie began to hear everything: her heartbeat thundering, her brain wobbling in her skull and the rush of the blood in her veins.

Was this normal? She questioned, just as Lucy Westenra did once in a story, and she asked her husband, and then others. Did everyone hear sounds in this way?

No, it transpired, they did not. And after much convincing of General Practitioners and consultants, Julie was diagnosed with superior canal dehiscence syndrome (SCDS) – a honeycombing of the bone in the ear.

She has had an operation on one ear, and expects one on the other shortly; and then she will no longer have super-acute hearing and the world of sounds we never hear will fade once more into the background.

All that vast empire of sound beyond us; a raucous cacophony silent to our ears.

What other sounds must mask themselves, there beyond our range, living a life unheard?


32 thoughts on “Doctor, I’m hearing things

  1. The mosquito in our bedroom last night was certainly within my hearing range. The only comfort is that I now seem to get bitten less than before. The air conditioning unit, that I bought on a visit to England, is so noisy ( no need for ultra hearing capabilities with that machine ) that I prefer the mosquitoes to trying to sleep in a simulation of a ship’s engine room:)

  2. Very well compiled post Kate. I wonder if you really start hearing your heart beat and movement of eye balls, how noisy the world will be.

  3. I would love to be able to hear like an animal just to have the unknown experience. Last night I watched a cat in our garden listening at the edge of the undergrowth and then creeping stealthily forward. I wondered what he had heard, a vole, a field mouse, I envied him that little world beyond our reach.

  4. I often wonder what people who are deaf and suddenly are given their hearing by surgery feel like. Or the blind suddenly given their sight. Must be totally overwhelming.

  5. What an interesting post Kate, something I never heard about before. Wonder if there’s a similar phenomenon with vision – where someone suddenly has frighteningly acute vision, and can see the tiniest things, such as fleas on cats as if they are huge?

  6. I can still hear mosquitoes buzzing around the room. As soon as I hear one, I am awake all night, because the thing will bite me repeatedly if I sleep.

    I don’t know that acute hearing would wow me, but I would love to be able to see. 20/20 would be fine. I was Felix’s age the last time I knew what that was like.

  7. Kate, I grew up in San Francisco in a house built on an always busy six lane highway, divided by streetcar tracks, that was a short distance from the fire department and not far from the airport. And don’t forget that wailing noon whistle screaming every Tuesday that I mentioned to you some posts back.

    So, I moved to New York City for the comparative silence.

    Keep Felix’s iPod on low to preserve his stellar hearing that will give him the capacity to hear the mosquitoes that are silent to his mum. I blew mine out my hearing at rock concerts eons ago.

    1. I shall watch that, Lame, good call. I remember sitting in a room at the Algonquin, marvelling at the sounds outside the window which never really ceased. London does sleep, sometimes, in the early hours, but New York, never. I can only imagine what San Francisco must be like!

  8. There’s a device on the market called The Mosquito that emits a high-pitched mosquito-like sound. It’s only purpose is to keep teenagers from loitering in malls, around shops, etc. Unfortunately it may also repel adults who can still hear such sounds. And I imagine there a lot of us.

  9. Quelle horreur! To hear your own eyeballs squeaking! My husband’s step-grandmother had artificial heart valves which were quite audible – I though that was bad enough. A fan for Felix would do the trick with the mozzies, Kate – if he can stand the sound 🙂

  10. That poor woman. I wonder how much sound one can take before madness sets in. My hearing ain’t what it used to be, and I’m convinced the loss comes from my slapping the side of my head every time I heard a mosquito buzzing toward my ear.

  11. Poor Felix. There’s nothing worse than being unable to tune out some level of sensory overload. I often regret that with age hearing isn’t as acute, but you’ve reminded me why this may not be such a big loss. The idea of actually hearing your eyeballs move would be terrifying, and you’re right, not at all unlike Lucy. I never saw the Coppola Dracula, in fact I forgot all about it. I might enjoy a look. 🙂

    1. It is one of my favourite films, Debra, though a different kind of greatness all together to the book. They are entirely separate. But the film is the most beautifully late-Victorian-technical piece. And I fell in love with Gary Oldman on the srength of this part alone.

  12. Fascinating post, Kate. Imagine being able to hear ones eyes rolling about in their assigned sockets?

    I hope that you enjoy this hot dry spell which comes only once in a very blue moon.

  13. I did enjoy Gary Oldman’s performance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The part where he was racing to get back to the castle before the sun rose … definitely excellent.
    But, having read the book, I still prefer that to its many Hollywood reincarnations.

    Like Felix, I would find it very difficult with a tiny, whiny insect buzzing about. I have tinnitus and that sets in when you lose a portion of your hearing. It helps me to deceive myself about the constant ringing to pretend that I’m hearing crickets. Still, I’d gladly put up with that than the poor woman who hears everything too acutely. Great post, Kate.

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