Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire

My Month of Madness

Audiobook CD - 2012
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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.
Publisher: [Minneapolis, MN] : HighBridge Audio, p2012.
ISBN: 9781611749786
Branch Call Number: 616.8320092
Characteristics: 7 sound discs (7.75 hr.) : digital, stereo ; 4 3/4 in.
Additional Contributors: Henderson, Heather


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Jul 26, 2018

Susannah Cahalan had done a service by detailing her horrific experience with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. The disease was only discovered in 2007 and, because symptoms make the patient appear psychotic, Cahalan wonders in the book whether some portion of patients committed to mental institutions might, in fact, have had this rare autoimmune disease. It's unclear how well known the disease is in the medical and mental health communities today, but it seems plausible that misdiagnoses still could be common. Thus, Cahalan's book brings the disease to light and, as she explains, already has helped others be diagnosed correctly.

Brain on Fire bogs down at times in medical information and its journalistic style. I don't fault Cahalan for this. She is, after all, a journalist. However, it does detract from the book's readability.

Aug 28, 2015

A fascinating and brave book. It was tough to listen to but I could not begin to imagine Susannah Cahalan's ordeal. The Washington Post says it best, "This story has a happy ending, but take heed: It is a powerfully scary book."

A fascinating medical case study and for that reason this story is a significant contribution to patients and their families who may need to rule out this rare disease when autism or schizophrenia is diagnosed. But as literature, she is no "Proust". Perhaps this is still residual thinking from her terrible disease but there was an air of self absorption and repetition that as off-putting.

Jun 24, 2014

This book discusses a barely known disease and how it affects the author's life. The medical story is interesting, but the book could have been edited way down. It's much too much repetition and when it came to discussing how the family and friends felt and responded, it was shallow.

My suggestion is to not try to include the personal reactions, or delve into the people so that there is some depth of understanding. Without that this could have been improved as a much shorter article on the ingenious work of a couple of doctors.

mmg2681 Aug 27, 2013

Wow. What an incredible story about a young woman with a rare disorder. I can relate (but not for an entire month) when I was in a medically induced coma for 7 days with an extreme case of H1N1 in 2009. Your mind does crazy things and what seems like a dream and what is reality are distorted. I'm glad the author's doctors found a cure and she is almost back to her "old self", but this is still an interesting story to read about.


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