November 28, 2012

Brain On Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan


Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
Publisher: Free Press
Publication Date: November 2012
Categories: Personal Memoir, Diseases, Medical
Source: Thanks to Maeve Kelly at Free Press

Description via Indiebound.org:

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 monthlong hospital stay of which she had no memory at all—showed hallucinations, violence, and dangerous instability. Only weeks earlier, Susannah had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: 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?

In this swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her inexplicable descent into madness and the brilliant, lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen. A team of doctors would spend a month—and more than a million dollars—trying desperately to pin down a medical explanation for what had gone wrong. Meanwhile, as the days passed and her family, boyfriend, and friends helplessly stood watch by her bed, she began to move inexorably through psychosis into catatonia and, ultimately, toward death. Yet even as this period nearly tore her family apart, it offered an extraordinary testament to their faith in Susannah and their refusal to let her go.

Then, at the last minute, celebrated neurologist Souhel Najjar joined her team and, with the help of a lucky, ingenious test, saved her life. He recognized the symptoms of a newly discovered autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the brain, a disease now thought to be tied to both schizophrenia and autism, and perhaps the root of “demonic possessions” throughout history.

Far more than simply a riveting read and a crackling medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity and to rediscover herself among the fragments left behind. Using all her considerable journalistic skills, and building from hospital records and surveillance video, interviews with family and friends, and excerpts from the deeply moving journal her father kept during her illness, Susannah pieces together the story of her “lost month” to write an unforgettable memoir about memory and identity, faith and love. It is an important, profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.

My Thoughts:

I first read an excerpt of this book in Reader's Digest a little while back and I was intrigued. So when I was contacted by Free Press to review Brain on Fire I jumped at the chance.

This book made me terrified of my own body. This can actually happen? Your brain can turn against itself and make you appear, for all intents and purposes, as completely off your rocker? It can happen. 

While reading Susannah's story you can easily imagine how this must have happened to others. And not to the lucky ones with access to healthcare and tenacious doctors. You have to wonder how many people were shut away, given up on, relegated to the attic.

Brain on Fire is well written, thought provoking, educational and compelling. Read it.


20 comments:

  1. This sounds very good I added it to my TBR list. The opening of the synopsis conjured up images of girl, interrupted and the movie the jacket.

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    1. I hope you get to it Nelle, it's fascinating!

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  2. OMG! This book sounds so good! I'm intrigued! I actually have an autoimmune disease (my body attacks my liver), so I definitely want to read this book. Its crazy to me how unpredictable our bodies and brains can be - scary! So glad you posted about this one!

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    1. I bet you'll love this book since you're dealing with a similar issue! It IS crazy how our bodies work/don't work. You'll have to let me know if you read it and what you think of it if you do!

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  3. I saw Susannah Cahalan on a show recently where she talks about this book and what it was like to go through this illness. I will put this book on my wish list because it is one that I would really like to read.

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    1. Hi Meandu, thanks for visiting! I should look up an interview with her, I'd like to see her live like that :)

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  4. This sounds like the kind of book that will give you nightmares. I'm always more scared of things that could actually happen than of books/movies with far-fetched horror plots.

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    1. Heck yes! I worry much less about an alien invasion, say, than about my brain attacking itself!

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  5. Yes, this book was scary! I didn't know your brain could attack itself, and that idea is terrifying.

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  6. This sounds so fascinating! It's so terrifying that you're brain can just attack itself like that, and that there's a good chance no one will know why. How horrible for anyone who had this and wasn't diagnosed! Must request it from the library.

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    1. Please do request it! I'd love to know what you think if you read it! It's a scary thought isn't it??

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  7. How terrifying. I'm fascinated with how she managed to piece together the missing month though. On to the wishlist goes.

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    1. Reading about how she watched herself on video and read her father's journal was fascinating. She has no recollections of that month...scary!

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  8. OMG, frightening!! I will check this one out for sure! Thanks for the review.

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    1. Definitely frightening! You won't believe what this poor girl went though. Actually, I mostly felt for her family, yikes.

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  9. This book just sounds so intriguing! I have seen it mentioned and I really want to read it! It sounds like my kind of scary novel: scary because it can really happen to you!

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    1. That is exactly why it's so scary! Eeek!

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  10. This book is definitely being added to my TBR pile. It's so intriguing... do you feel like the book lived up to the hype of the intrigue?

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    1. I hope you'll enjoy it. I think it lived up to the hype..it was a fascinating story.

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