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Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

Brain on Fire (edition 2012)

by Susannah Cahalan

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1,065757,874 (3.97)50
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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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 |
Wow. This memoir just sucked me right in; I had to finish it as fast as possible.

It's confusing, terrifying and is making this little hypochondriac slightly worried ... but it is a fascinating ride. ( )
  imahorcrux | Jun 22, 2016 |
Wow! This memoir reads like a real-life episode of House. At 24, reporter Susannah Cahalan suffered a number of neurological and physical symptoms that teams of doctors were unable to diagnose. It seemed she would be destined to spend her life in a psychiatric facility, if she even survived. This is the story of her illness. It is told with honesty...and it's a scary story. One that makes me appreciate how much those who are ill need people to champion them and believe in them. Such a good story, told so well. ( )
  LynnB | Jun 5, 2016 |
In the memoir Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan details her struggle to get an accurate diagnosis for why she has suddenly been having symptom that resemble mental illness or signs of a stroke. She leaves the reader guessing as to what the correct diagnosis might be until the last third of the book. So many times I was tempted to flip ahead to see what it was!

Susannah’s story is surprisingly detailed given that she cannot remember a lot of the events that happened in her “month of madness”. Luckily, she is a journalist and was skilled at interviewing her family, friends and doctors about what happened.

One of the most important take-ways from this book is to be your own advocate in your health care. As a frequent patient myself, I heartily second that. Never be afraid to question your doctor and do your own research.

I definitely recommend this book. ( )
  mcelhra | May 7, 2016 |
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"..a fascinating and compelling story told in a smart, succinct style.."
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Information from the Russian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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

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