Title: Brain On Fire: My Month of Madness
Author: Susannah Cahalan
Publisher: November 13th 2012 by Free Press (audio by HighBridge Company)
Format: Hardcover, 264 pages (audio 7 hrs and 48 mins)
Narrator: Heather Henderson
Source: Purchased from Audible
A gripping memoir and medical suspense story about a young New York Post reporter’s struggle with a rare and terrifying disease, opening a new window into the fascinating world of brain science.
One day, Susannah Cahalan woke up in a strange hospital room, strapped to her bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. Her medical records—from a month-long hospital stay of which she had no memory—showed psychosis, violence, and dangerous instability. Yet, only weeks earlier she had been a healthy, ambitious twenty-four year old, six months into her first serious relationship and a sparkling career as a cub reporter.
Susannah’s astonishing memoir chronicles the swift path of her illness and the lucky, last-minute intervention led by one of the few doctors capable of saving her life. As weeks ticked by and Susannah moved inexplicably from violence to catatonia, $1 million worth of blood tests and brain scans revealed nothing. The exhausted doctors were ready to commit her to the psychiatric ward, in effect condemning her to a lifetime of institutions, or death, until Dr. Souhel Najjar—nicknamed Dr. House—joined her team. He asked Susannah to draw one simple sketch, which became key to diagnosing her with a newly discovered autoimmune disease in which her body was attacking her brain, an illness now thought to be the cause of “demonic possessions” throughout history.
With sharp reporting drawn from hospital records, scientific research, and interviews with doctors and family, Brain on Fire is a crackling mystery and an unflinching, gripping personal story that marks the debut of an extraordinary writer.
What an amazing story. This would be a great fiction story, but the fact that it’s true makes it all the more incredible.
Susannah takes us on the journey she took as she fell ill to the mysterious illness. The book starts at the first sign that something is wrong and takes us through her time in the hospital, her diagnosis, treatment and the follow-up care and research. Even though she can’t remember anything from that time, she has pulled together doctor’s notes, videos and interviews to create a thorough timeline that makes the reader fell like they’re living through it with her.
And it was scary. One minute she was an outgoing, confident young woman and the next she was a paranoid, delusional mess. It came on so suddenly and there were only a few signs that something was wrong before she ended up in the hospital. The tests and incorrect diagnoses she went through before they ever discovered her problem were immense and I’m impressed that her family didn’t give up on her. Their persistence is a testament of their love. Also? I think she might have the best real-life boyfriend ever.
You know it’s going to end well (she did write the book, after all) but the writing is so immersive and intense, that you wonder how it will all work out. This could have had a very different outcome, and Susannah is very lucky that the right doctor found the right test at the right time.
The last section of the book deals with the aftermath – how Susannah continues to be affected and the research and development that have gone into the disease since her diagnosis. That section wasn’t as intense as the earlier parts, but it was interesting. In fact, there are interesting facts and tidbits throughout the book, which were especially useful so we would know exactly how Susannah’s brain was misfiring.
The narrator did a great job, she had the moods and affectations down perfectly. When combined with the fabulous writing, I really felt like I was there in Susannah’s head while she was going through this.
An intriguing story made even better by the tight writing. Susannah is a gifted writer and I’m amazed this is her first book. Don’t miss it.