It’s a fact that a brain tumor can make people see and hear things that aren’t actually there. But I just chanced upon an extraordinary story about a woman in England whose life was saved by an unexplainable auditory anomaly. Everything that follows really happened.
This case happened in 1984 but wasn’t reported until 1997 when the well-regarded British Medical Journal published the account. A female patient referred to as “AB” began to hear unexplainable voices in her head that told her to get a brain scan for a tumor.
Up until that point in her life, AB had been a full-time house spouse – since the 1960s with no previous illnesses. She was so healthy she hardly ever visited a doctor and never needed hospitalization for anything. But everything changed for AB in the winter of 1984.
While reading at home, AB heard a distinct voice inside her head. (Fasten your seat belt because this is where things start to get weird.) The voice said:
“Please don’t be afraid. I know it must be shocking for you to hear me speaking to you like this, but this is the easiest way I could think of. My friend and I used to work at the Children’s Hospital, Great Ormond Street, and we would like to help you.”
Although AB had heard of the Children’s Hospital, she had never been there and didn’t know where it was. The voice continued:
“To help you see that we are sincere, we would like you to check out the following…”
The mysterious voice gave AB three separate pieces of information which she did not know at the time. She checked them out and they proved to be true. However, by this time, AB was convinced that she was bonkers (the British term for stark, raving mad).
A panicked AB paid her doctor a visit who wrote an urgent referral for forensic psychiatrist Ikechukwu Obialo Azuonye. With a background in Neurology and experience working in General Adult and Forensic Psychiatry for most of his professional career, he is also interested in Consciousness Research and supports Spirituality in Psychiatry.
AB was seen at the psychiatric outpatient clinic and diagnosed with a functional hallucinatory psychosis. A combination of counseling sessions coupled with thioridazine antipsychotic drug therapy caused the voices inside her head to vanish after a couple of weeks of treatment.
Greatly relieved, AB went on vacation. While she was abroad – and still taking the thioridazine – the voices started up again, saying they wanted her to return to England right away because there was something wrong with her that required immediate medical attention.
AB did return to London and saw Dr. Azuonye in his outpatient clinic. She told him that the voices had given her an address with instructions to go there.
Her reluctant husband agreed to drive AB to the address to prove it was “all in her head.” Much to the couple’s surprise, they ended up at the computerized tomography (CT) department of a large London hospital.
The voices told her to go in and request a brain scan for two reasons: she had a brain tumor and her brain stem was inflamed.
The next day, AB saw Dr. Azuonye again, believing she had a brain tumor because the voices had been right before about other things. She was so upset that her shrink ordered a brain scan to calm her fears.
Dr. Azuonye wrote a letter asking for a brain scan because hallucinatory voices had told his patient that she had a brain tumor, but that he had not found any physical signs to suggest a brain lesion. The purpose of the scan was for reassurance and nothing more.
The first brain scan request was declined on the grounds that there was no clinical justification for such an expensive test. Implied also was that the psychiatrist had a screw loose, too, for believing what his patient’s delusional voices were telling her.
However, after some further negotiation, AB got her brain scan in April. The initial findings led to a repeat scan, with enhancement, in May, which revealed – guess what? – a brain tumor.
Oddly enough, AB was experiencing no pain from this foreign mass taking up space inside her head. The consultant neurosurgeon who treated AB discussed the pros and cons of immediate operation versus waiting for symptoms to appear with her and her husband.
The three agreed to go ahead with a surgery with no further delay. The voices inside AB’s head said they supported that decision completely.
The operation was carried out in May 1984. A meningioma about 2.5″ by 1.5″ in size was surgically removed.
After the tumor was removed and AB regained consciousness, the voices told her:
“We are pleased to have helped you. Goodbye.”
There were no postoperative complications and AB recovered completely. The “hallucinatory” voices never came back.
Twelve years after her brain surgery, AB telephoned Dr. Azuonye to wish him a merry Christmas and told him she had been completely well.
The psychiatrist reflected on the fact that brain lesions have been linked to clinical symptoms but he had never encountered any other case where unknown voices tried to reassure a patient of their genuine interest in her welfare, offered a specific diagnosis (there were no clinical signs that would have alerted anyone to the tumor), provided directions to the type of hospital best equipped to deal with the problem, expressed pleasure that the patient had, at last, received the treatment they recommended, bid her a fond farewell, and then disappeared.
Furthermore, ponder this: if the life-saving voice AB heard was an auditory hallucination caused by a brain tumor, how could it say goodbye after the tumor had been removed?