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Observations placeholder

Dr Suzanne Koven - Hallucinates the presence of her son



Type of Spiritual Experience


Number of hallucinations: 1


A description of the experience

from The Big Idea #5: Interview with Oliver Sacks

By Suzanne Koven

July 9th, 2013

A little over a year ago, I had surgery to repair a bad fracture of my right shoulder. Though the injury was anything but psychosomatic, I was surprised by the intensity of its psychological impact on me. I wrote about that on The Rumpus, but I omitted from these accounts an unusual experience I had about two weeks after my operation.

I was still in a lot of pain, still taking narcotics on and off, and still sleeping poorly. I was also claustrophobic and bored, unable to work, drive, or even turn the pages of a book or magazine. My friend Brenda called and correctly sized up my condition: “You sound terrible.” She offered to pick me up, drive me across town to her house, make me tea, and drive me back. “A change of scenery will do you good,” Brenda said.

She was right. By the time we returned to my house on that clear summer afternoon, I’d cheered up considerably. I was delighted to see my college-aged son arriving home at the same time, standing on the steps wearing shiny, dark blue basketball shorts, a black t-shirt, and a dark blue baseball cap. I was eager to introduce him to Brenda and also to get some assistance from him in moving from the car to the house—no small feat with my arm still bound to my chest.

My son has always been a sweet and polite boy and, at twenty, well past the age where “meeting a friend of Mom’s” is an activity to be ducked, so I was surprised, and a bit miffed, when he didn’t even acknowledge us before disappearing into the house.

I said goodbye to Brenda, and made my way awkwardly to the door, which I discovered my son had locked behind him. Now I was really annoyed. I struggled, left-handed, to pull my key from my purse and let myself in.

I called my son’s name. No one answered. I walked from room to room, looking for him. The house was empty. I had seen my son, clear as day. But he wasn’t there.


The Rumpus: What happened to me that day? According to your book, there are many reasons why I might have hallucinated—sleep deprivation and drugs and pain and so forth. But was it random and meaningless that I hallucinated my son, specifically?

Oliver Sacks: Nothing is meaningless. That’s certainly what my analyst says. On the other hand, I think of my patient who saw Kermit the Frog and said, “Why Kermit? He means nothing to me.” But obviously your son must mean a lot to you. I think a good analyst will always be alert for the biological and the medical.

Sacks:   I’m fascinated by the “reality” of your hallucination. That you were surprised he didn’t open the car door, that he locked the door in your face—which isn’t ordinarily in keeping with what a hallucination is about. Was it purely visual? Did you hear the ground crunching under him? Or hear him speak?

Rumpus: No. It was all visual and lasted five seconds, perhaps.....

Sacks: How did you feel when you realized the door was closed? You realized it was a hallucination at that point.

Rumpus: I was frightened. I told no one about it, not even my husband, until after I had read your book.

The source of the experience

Scientist other

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

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