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Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

Brain on Fire (edition 2012)

by Susannah Cahalan

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1,129797,260 (3.96)51
Title:Brain on Fire
Authors:Susannah Cahalan
Info:Free Press (2012), Edition: 1, Kindle Edition, 290 pages
Collections:Your library, Four/Five stars
Tags:Brain disease, Encephalitis, Medicine, Mental illness, New York Post, Memoir, Hospitals, Doctors, Neurology, Nonfiction

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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan


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I received a copy to facilitate my review. The Opinions expressed here are my own.

Imagine you are a successful reporter in New York City and that you are only 24 when suddenly you know something is wrong. You are having several physical issues and mental issues and no one seems to be able to correctly tell you what is happening. This is what happened to Susannah Cahalan. She had an inflammation of her brain, yet was misdiagnosed many times. People start to believe with her symptoms that she has an alcohol problem, or is schizophrenic. Her dad is the one person who stands behind her and believes there is something physically, not mentally wrong with her. She finally finds a doctor who does one simple test and proves her condition is physical. It is confirmed by another doctor and true treatment begins. It is scary to find out there are so many auto-immune diseases out there that go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. How many people are institutionalized because of this type of situation? Susannah was one of the lucky ones because she had such a strong support system and they were determined to find the cause. This was both a scary and uplifting book as we find hope in doctors like hers. ( )
  skstiles612 | Aug 28, 2016 |
Fascinating. The writing was very good and the retelling of Cahalan's nightmarish medical mystery intriguing- right up until she found out what she had. After that point, I felt like the story of her recovery and attempt to recreate the memories of that lost time period in her life were only half done- the ending seemed rushed. Overall a very good book and I would definitely recommend. ( )
  Maureen_McCombs | Aug 19, 2016 |
The author was stricken with a mysterious auto-immune illness that attacked her brain. Though she has very little recollection of the time that she was severely ill, she has used her skills as a journalist to recreate this period of her life. Reading about her descent into an illness that a lot of people thought was a mental disorder is both horrible and fascinating. It's like when you see an accident and cannot look away. Readers can't help but think "what if this happened to me". Reading about how a diagnosis and cure were eventually found was equally fascinating, however once she was back to normal the rest of the book describing the insights she gained and her life since then fell a bit flat for me.
Our book club had a reasonably good discussion on this. I was afraid there might not be much to talk about beyond "what would you do in this kind of situation" and the messed up state of our health care system, but we found enough to discuss for an hour or so. ( )
  debs4jc | Aug 5, 2016 |
Book on CD narrated by Heather Henderson

From the book jacket One day in 2009, twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a strange hospital room, strapped to her bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. A wristband marked her as a “flight risk,” and her medical records – chronicling a month-long hospital stay – showed hallucinations, violence, and dangerous instability. Only weeks earlier, Susannah had been … a healthy, ambitious college grad a few months into her first serious relationship and a promising career as a cub reporter at a major New York newspaper. Who was the stranger who had taken over her body? What was happening to her mind?

My reactions
This was a fascinating memoir – drawn partly from interviews with friends, relations, colleagues and medical personnel, her journal writings during the period, and her medical records – of a time period when Cahalan was nearly completely lost. It was luck that caused her diagnosis to come early enough in her disease process to not only correct the problem, but minimize the brain damage she might otherwise have suffered. For the cause of her apparent mental illness (some physicians felt her symptoms pointed to alcohol withdrawal, other drug use, and/or schizophrenia) was actually a little-known form of encephalitis. The fact that she had a major seizure brought her to the attention of neurologists, rather than psychiatrists, and one neurologist in particular who followed a hunch and suggested a brain biopsy which the autoimmune disorder which was causing her brain to swell.

As she recovered, Cahalan was encouraged to write about her experience, and the first article (published by her employer, The Post) gained world-wide attention, and resulted in timely intervention for many other patients as well.

Her training as a journalist is evident here. She includes much background information on the research into the disorder – anti-NDMA-receptor encephalitis – and the history of mental illness (including “demonic possession”) and autism. I was engaged and interested from beginning to end, though I did feel it was a bit repetitive.

Heather Henderson does a fabulous job reading the audio book. Her performance really brought to life the deterioration Cahalan experienced, as well as how anxious and confused she felt. Henderson’s skill as a voice artist also allowed her to give the other people in the book unique voices, making it easy to distinguish who was speaking. The only thing missing from the audio, of course, are the illustrations – pages from Cahalan’s journals at the time, or slides of her brain scans, etc. – but this did not materially affect my understanding or enjoyment of the book. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jul 13, 2016 |
A highly competent newspaper reporter wakes up one morning strapped to a hospital. Susannah tries to talk but no one can hear her. They get in contact with her mother and she comes to Susannah's aid. Susannah had a seizure so they send to the epilepsy ward. She has all kinds of medical testing and sees a psychiatrist who informs them that she is going through withdrawal due to alcoholism. Since they are unable to find another answer, they send them home. Within the week, she has another seizure and is foaming at the mouth, They return to the hospital and further testing done. The results are still normal. The parents demand another diagnosis before they go home again. They get in touch with another doctor out of the city and he is stunned also. He does further testing with Susannah and he locates the diagnosis. The diagnosis is SO rare it is overlooked in many cases.

I enjoyed this book very much. It is scary to read but has a happy ending. The book also reminds us what parents and children go through just to LIVE. ( )
  suzanne5002 | Jul 10, 2016 |
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"..a fascinating and compelling story told in a smart, succinct style.."
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I have felt that odd whirr of wings in the head.
                                 —Virginia Woolf, A Writer's Diary:
              Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf
Dedicated to those without a diagnosis
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Maybe it all began with a bug bite, from a bedbug that didn't exist.
If all I can remember are hallucinations, how can I rely on my own mind?
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The story of twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan and the life-saving discovery of the autoimmune disorder that nearly killed her -- and that could perhaps be the root of "demonic possessions" throughout history.

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HighBridge Audio

An edition of this book was published by HighBridge Audio.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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