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
"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)
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.
I had a similar reaction to medication several years ago. I could relate to some of her experiences.
I have never read a book like this before.
The main character, by far.
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.
She was very brave for sharing her story. Thank you.
Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always."
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.
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Yes it was time well-spent, interesting to hear about how the brain works and someone's life can be turned upside down.
not sure, but she was very good!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
That her parents came together to care for her and her relatively new boyfriend stayed by her side.
Yes and I tried to but it did take me several consecutive nights to finish it.
I recommended it to my mother and she can't wait to listen to it.
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.
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