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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
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July 2016: Biography Memoir > Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness / Susannah Cahalan - 3.5***

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Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 6400 comments Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness – Susannah Cahalan
Book on CD narrated by Heather Henderson
3.5***

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.


Booknblues | 6865 comments I was intrigued when I read this book. I would recommend it for anyone searching for a memoir to read.


message 3: by Denizen (new)

Denizen (den13) | 1138 comments Book Concierge wrote: "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.."

It sounds fascinating. What did they do to minimize brain damage?


Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 6400 comments Denizen wrote: "Book Concierge wrote: "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 suff..."

Because the disease process was diagnosed relatively early and she got advanced treatment right away, fewer brain cells died.


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