Regular price: $23.07

Free with 30-day trial
Membership details Membership details
  • A 30-day trial plus your first audiobook, free
  • 1 credit/month after trial – good for any book, any price
  • Easy exchanges – swap any book you don’t love
  • Keep your audiobooks, even if you cancel
  • After your trial, Audible is just $14.95/month
OR
In Cart

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

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

Overall

  • 4.2 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    2,138
  • 4 Stars
    1,582
  • 3 Stars
    635
  • 2 Stars
    156
  • 1 Stars
    80

Performance

  • 4.2 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    2,077
  • 4 Stars
    1,277
  • 3 Stars
    550
  • 2 Stars
    144
  • 1 Stars
    72

Story

  • 4.3 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    2,154
  • 4 Stars
    1,243
  • 3 Stars
    529
  • 2 Stars
    134
  • 1 Stars
    69
Sort by:
  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Cynthia
  • Monrovia, California, United States
  • 03-17-14

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!]

71 of 83 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

She Survived

Where does Brain on Fire rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Good book detailing the tragic illness and recovery of a NYT journalist. The narrative was compelling.

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

No

Any additional comments?

None

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

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

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

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

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Difficult Diagnosis

Susannah Cahalan worked as a newspaper reporter who had been experiencing symptoms that mimicked mental illness. She was in the midst of a psychotic episode. Susannah was paranoid, delusional, hearing voices, having hallucinations and thinking that people were talking about her. She had no prelude to this illness. Susannah woke up one morning and out of no where, exhibited highly irrational behavior. Her biggest fear was that she would be placed in a nursing home or even worse, a psychiatric facility.

Susannah would have combative episodes and awoke to find herself strapped to a bed unable to move or speak and most alarming, she was being watched by a guard. She realized that she was in a hospital but had no memory why.

Susannah would go in and out of these symptoms without any recollection of the events. Susannah, friends, boyfriend of only 3 months, and family were, at this time, quite distraught. Susannah was given anti-pyschotic medications to try and help her to remain stable. Her personality before had been vibrant, very social, her working skills were excellent and she had been living in an apartment in New York City on her own. However, when the illness reached its apex, Susannah became angry, avoided people and friends, could no longer concentrate, had to leave her job and move in with her mother and step-father. Her mother realized that Susannah needed to be hospialtlized.

There were many doctors who attempted to help Susannah. To everyone's dismay each doctor would discontinue seeing her and send another doctor to evaluate Susannah, hoping to find the correct diagnosis. It became apparent the doctor's zeroed in or her psychotic episodes and concluded that Susannah needed psychiatric intervention.

Miraculously, it seemed, after spending 30 days in a hospital, with no definite diagnosis, there was a doctor who had knowledge of why Susannah's brain was, "on fire." The doctor performed more testing and the PET scan, which illuminated the brain with such clarity, showed that Susannah had fluid on her brain.

There are at least 100 autoimmune diseases and Susannah also had an autoimmune disease that had only recently been discovered. Unlike other autoimmune diseases, Susannah could possibly have a complete reversal or at least 90%. Luckily, Susannah received treatment before any severe damage had occurred to her brain.

Susannah left the hospital and had out patient treatments for the IV medication termed, IVG. Her other medications could be taken at home.

Susannah wrote her memoir to tell reader's about her struggles and how she survived. The book was well written and proved to be a great listen. Heather Henson did an excellent job of narration. She did the voices well and emulated the emotions of all the character's with recognition and feeling. I would recommend to other's to purchase this book.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Crystal
  • Angier, NC, United States
  • 03-13-13

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

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Incredible Story, Written with Care and Skil

Simply, this book fascinated me.

A story of consciousness, medical diagnosis, mental health, and the incredible perseverance shown by loved ones through agonizing uncertainty. We touch on biology and psychology. Exploring the pitfalls and shortcomings of modern medicine but also determination great doctors and incredible discoveries.

The author's skill as a writer shines through as she recounts the story of her "month of madness". Some very raw, complex moments retold with care and emotion.

There is a smattering of language throughout, but I believe it fits the narrative, being a snapshot of Ms. Cahalan's life.

As a reader, I end the book feeling challenged on many levels. What does it mean to "be myself"? How do we find and treat those with more obscure or easily misdiagnosed ailments? Would I have the strength to stand by someone going through this type of ordeal?

Well worth the time and money spent!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • mollymel
  • SF, CA, United States
  • 09-23-17

fascinating story

I really enjoyed hearing the authors tale of illness and recovery. Much of what she describes is scary, but it's done in a heartfelt and honest way that draws you in close. You're fighting for her to make it.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful