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Brain on Fire Audiobook

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

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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

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  •  
    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

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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
  •  
    Cynthia Monrovia, California, United States 03-17-14
    Cynthia Monrovia, California, United States 03-17-14 Member Since 2012

    Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always."

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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!]

    53 of 64 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John M. Sonntag Norfolk, VA 03-25-13
    John M. Sonntag Norfolk, VA 03-25-13 Listener Since 2009
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    "Pretty Interesting"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    Yes it was time well-spent, interesting to hear about how the brain works and someone's life can be turned upside down.


    Have you listened to any of Heather Henderson’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    not sure, but she was very good!


    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathleen Glaser San Diego, CA 09-03-15
    Kathleen Glaser San Diego, CA 09-03-15

    Irish Girl

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    "Similar if not identical to my experience"

    I have recently been diagnosed with autoimmune encephalopathy. While its cause has not been found yet the journey through differential diagnoses, testing and eventual therapies is similar. the importance of my daughter, a physician, becoming an aggressive advocate and insisting the neurologists initiate all known therapies even though every diagnostic test was negative is the difference between my recovering at home and not being in an Alzheimer or mental health unit. I have eight siblings and I have told them this is a close if not exact description of my journey.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sam Motes Tampa 05-01-14
    Sam Motes Tampa 05-01-14 Listener Since 2009
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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
  •  
    Crystal Angier, NC, United States 03-13-13
    Crystal Angier, NC, United States 03-13-13 Member Since 2015
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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?


    11 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Justin 07-02-15
    Justin 07-02-15 Member Since 2013
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    "Good story, awkward ending"

    I really enjoyed the story, which is a very recent account of a woman gone mad.

    The problem with it being so recent is that it is not really neatly tied up at the end. I felt that the author could have used the story to make a stronger argument, but she instead just raised a number of questions. I would have liked more lessons that she learned or implications to be elaborated on. I felt that it was a good story but lacked a takeaway.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Trina 12-09-14
    Trina 12-09-14
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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
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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

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