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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness | [Susannah Cahalan]

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

In 2009, Susannah Cahalan woke up in a strange hospital room strapped to a bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. Her medical records - from a month-long hospital stay of which she had no memory - reported 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
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Publisher's Summary

In 2009, Susannah Cahalan woke up in a strange hospital room strapped to a bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. Her medical records - from a month-long hospital stay of which she had no memory - reported 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. Weeks ticked by and Susannah moved inexplicably from violence to catatonia. Over one million dollars worth of blood tests and brain scans revealed nothing. The exhausted doctors were ready to commit her to the psychiatric ward, until the celebrated neurologist, Dr. Souhel Najjar, joined her team. With the use of a simple - yet ingenious - test, he was able to make a lifesaving diagnosis - revealing a newly discovered autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the brain.

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.

©2012 Original material © 2012 Susannah Cahalan. Recorded by arrangement with Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. (P)2012 (p) 2012 HighBridge Company

What the Critics Say

"Engrossing.... Unquestionably, an important book on both a human and a medical level. Cahalan’s elegantly-written memoir of her dramatic descent into madness opens up discussion of the cutting-edge neuroscience behind a disease that may affect thousands of people around the world, and it offers powerful insight into the subjective workings of our minds." (Mehmet Oz, MD, Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Surgery, New York Presbyterian-Columbia Medical Center)

"Brain on Fire reads like a scientific thriller, but with a profound and moving philosophy at its heart." (David B. Agus, M.D., Professor of Medicine and Engineering, University of Southern California, and author of The End of Illness)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (1565 )
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  •  
    Jennifer 06-06-14
    Jennifer 06-06-14 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    "Interesting book"
    If you could sum up Brain on Fire in three words, what would they be?

    Frustrating reality medicine


    What did you like best about this story?

    That she recovered


    What does Heather Henderson bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    The emotions and the descriptions were real


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Very interesting and frustrating at times.


    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    KeyExpert 05-26-14
    KeyExpert 05-26-14
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    "Memoirs after an all-consuming mental breakdown."

    Susannah Cahalan gives readers a very thorough description of her mental breakdown (caused by an extremely rare and hard-to-diagnose disease) and its aftermath. It's quite interesting to experience something like that in the words of the patient herself. I'd recommend the book for sure.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sophia Richmond 05-07-14

    SRM

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Had a hard time putting this one down."
    What made the experience of listening to Brain on Fire the most enjoyable?

    I had a similar reaction to medication several years ago. I could relate to some of her experiences.


    What other book might you compare Brain on Fire to and why?

    I have never read a book like this before.


    Which character – as performed by Heather Henderson – was your favorite?

    The main character, by far.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    I felt so bad for the character; that she unfortunately had to experience this traumatic event. However, I am thankful she wrote this book to share her story.


    Any additional comments?

    She was very brave for sharing her story. Thank you.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sam Motes Tampa 05-01-14
    Sam Motes Tampa 05-01-14 Listener Since 2009

    Audible obsessed lifelong learner.

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    "More terrifying than fiction"

    What a terrifying read on how fragile our grasp on sanity is. The author could have easily become a causality to our broken health care system but through luck and shear determination by her loved ones the right treatment was found to restore her quality of life.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cynthia Monrovia, California, United States 03-17-14
    Cynthia Monrovia, California, United States 03-17-14 Member Since 2012

    Audible listener who's grateful for a long commute!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Brain Fever"

    I'd heard of Susannah Cahalan's "Brain on Fire" (2011), but I'd also heard Cahalan's a New York Post reporter. "A tabloid reporter?" I thought. "A writer from the rag famous for headlines like 'Headless Body found in Topless Bar' (April 15, 1983) and 'Weiner's Rise and Fall' (June 17, 2011)?" Clever headlines, sure - but aren't all tabloid writers as nutty as their ledes? "Maybe the job did her in," I thought, mentally dismissing the book.

    My newspaper snobbery almost made me miss a very well written, insightful book based on sound, peer reviewed and published scientific research. In her mid-20's, working a dream job in New York City with a new boyfriend, Cahalan developed Anti-NMDA- (N-methyl D-aspartate) receptor autoimmune encephalitis, At the time - and probably still - people who develop signs and symptoms of that disease are diagnosed with psychosis of unknown origin, or schizo-affective disorder. The only really unexplainable symptom is seizures - others, such as abnormally high blood pressure, can be misdiagnosed as an concurrent, but unrelated problem.

    Cahalan was lucky - she has a well educated family, and her bitterly divorced parents set aside their animosity to aggressively advocate and care for her. In fact, Cahalan's parents' new spouses were admirably supportive, despite Cahalan's paranoia - which had her saying particularly hurtful things to one and all. Even with parents and a boyfriend convinced Cahalan had more than "just a mental illness", pinpointing the cause was long and arduous - and almost didn't happen in time to prevent irreversible physical and mental problems. The treatment was an arduous course of steroids and intravenous immunoglobulins and plasmapheresis. Cahalan's care ended up costing her insurer over $1 mil, although if she had been properly diagnosed to begin with, the bill would have been 25% to 50% less.

    Cahalan did something that was incredibly brave: she carefully researched and wrote about a situation that not only almost killed her, but also had her acting in ways that she later found were incredibly embarrassing. The most courageous admissions were about the hallucinations she knows she had - but are such vivid memories, she still half believes they were true.

    Audible, I blame you for making me a newspaper snob in the first place. (That happens when the monthly subscription includes a 48 to 52 minute every weekday New York Times Audible Digest; your drive is about an hour; and the NY Times writing's usually pretty good.) Audible, I also thank you for knocking me off my literary high horse to find a writer worth the listen. I'm not going to start reading the New York Post, but I will look for other medical/scientific books by Cahalan. And, yeah, maybe I'll actually read a Post article along with an especially "punny" headline.

    [If this review helped, please press YES. Thanks!]

    42 of 52 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Crystal Angier, NC, United States 03-13-13
    Crystal Angier, NC, United States 03-13-13 Member Since 2014
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    "Engaging an Informing"
    What made the experience of listening to Brain on Fire the most enjoyable?

    Maybe it's because of Susannah Cahalan's expertise in writing or Heather Henderson's wonderful narration style, whatever the reason, this audio book was amazing. This book opened my eyes to new worlds for the mentally disabled. It allowed me to have hope for those who seem hopeless. My favorite aspect of this book was that Cahalan somehow managed to make me feel what she felt--Is she crazy? Will she make a 100% recovery? Will she have a reoccurrence of encephalitis?


    9 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Trina 12-09-14
    Trina 12-09-14 Member Since 2015
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    "Chilling account right from the start"
    What made the experience of listening to Brain on Fire the most enjoyable?

    The story was most compelling because it was told by Susannah from what she remembered and from what others told her in bits and pieces. It seems this book would hold a lot of hope for some people who know their loved ones are being misdiagnosed. That there is hope even once diagnosed. Never give up.


    What did you like best about this story?

    That her parents came together to care for her and her relatively new boyfriend stayed by her side.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Yes and I tried to but it did take me several consecutive nights to finish it.


    Any additional comments?

    I recommended it to my mother and she can't wait to listen to it.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kimberlee 11-20-14
    Kimberlee 11-20-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Great Book!!"
    Any additional comments?

    I couldn't stop listening! Since I have friends who have been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and Schizophrenia, I was immediately drawn in and could relate to her family and friends. I was positive I knew what she would be diagnosed with.. but I was COMPLETELY wrong. You will not be disappointed.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sarah S. 10-13-14
    Sarah S. 10-13-14
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    "Loved this!"
    What made the experience of listening to Brain on Fire the most enjoyable?

    a great listen! really enjoyed the way it was read and the book itself. Very interesting


    What other book might you compare Brain on Fire to and why?

    not sure, but this would suit someone who enjoys learning about medical conditions/science/etc. It really is focused on what happened to her, why it happened to her, and how her and her family dealt with it


    What does Heather Henderson bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Really great book to listen to as there is much trauma in the author's life- and this is reflected in the voicework


    Any additional comments?

    LOVED IT

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Donna 10-06-14
    Donna 10-06-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Frightening"

    An remarkable, true story of a 24 year old woman's descent into madness for several months and how she was able to recover. Scary to think this could happen to anyone at any time.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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