Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire

My Month of Madness

Book - 2012
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A gripping memoir and medical suspense story about a young New York Post reporter's struggle with a rare and terrifying disease, opening a new window into the fascinating world of brain science.

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 of which she had no memory at all--showed hallucinations, violence, and dangerous instability. Only weeks earlier, Susannah had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: 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?

In this swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her inexplicable descent into madness and the brilliant, lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn't happen. A team of doctors would spend a month--and more than a million dollars--trying desperately to pin down a medical explanation for what had gone wrong. Meanwhile, as the days passed and her family, boyfriend, and friends helplessly stood watch by her bed, she began to move inexorably through psychosis into catatonia and, ultimately, toward death. Yet even as this period nearly tore her family apart, it offered an extraordinary testament to their faith in Susannah and their refusal to let her go.

Then, at the last minute, celebrated neurologist Souhel Najjar joined her team and, with the help of a lucky, ingenious test, saved her life. He recognized the symptoms of a newly discovered autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the brain, a disease now thought to be tied to both schizophrenia and autism, and perhaps the root of "demonic possessions" throughout history.

Far more than simply a riveting read and a crackling medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman's struggle to recapture her identity and to rediscover herself among the fragments left behind. Using all her considerable journalistic skills, and building from hospital records and surveillance video, interviews with family and friends, and excerpts from the deeply moving journal her father kept during her illness, Susannah pieces together the story of her "lost month" to write an unforgettable memoir about memory and identity, faith and love. It is an important, profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.
Publisher: New York ; Toronto : Free Press, c2012
ISBN: 9781451621372
Branch Call Number: ANF 616.832009 CAH
Characteristics: xii, 264 p. : ill. ; 24 cm


From the critics

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Jun 14, 2019

Interesting story and I am glad that the author has recovered from this horrible disease. However expanding an essay that was written for a newspaper article into a 270ish page book has its drawbacks. I found myself bored and at times questioning small details. For example the first time she was having a Seizure she remembers waking up in a hospital room and seeing a homeless person throwing up. She details a conversation she had with a nurse but says it is recalled from watching a security camera.

Granted her parents, doctor, and boyfriend all are part of her descent into madness and recovery. They do help her remember what happened but these parts it is written as if she is conscience and is fully aware of her actions. These parts would have been better written as a journal entry instead of in first person.

Final rating: 2.5/10

May 18, 2019


neyoscribbles Mar 20, 2019

Simultaneously an interesting and frightening read considering it could happen to anyone. One day, out of the blue, Cahalan becomes someone else because of a neurological autoimmune disease :O. This memoir illustrates the importance of having a support system or in her case, the individuals that stood by her because they could recognize a glimpse of the ‘real’ Susannah. Aside from all the medical advances and technologies we have discovered, I think one of the takeaways for me was the emphasis on individualized care - literally being open-minded and actually listening to the patient. How else can autoimmune diseases be misdiagnosed as autism or schizophrenia? Especially, if our predisposition to autoimmune diseases are two thirds environmental and one third genetic, then how much harder must the medical industry work to ensure no one falls through the cracks?

Jan 11, 2019

I had never heard about this story before until someone recommended this book to me. Her story is terrifying; one day a normal 24 year old, a month later, unrecognizable.

Nov 28, 2018

I liked this book but I don't think I would recommend it to anyone. Which is hard to say. It is extremely well written and Susannah did an excellent job describing what she and her family went through. Her story is so sad and I wish things had been different for her. The most encouraging part of the book is hearing how great her family and friends were throughout all of it. My favorite part was a section about memories and how we all create details after an event.

d2013 Aug 03, 2018

Such a frightening ordeal to go through. Quite a mystery from the beginning to end of this true story. Glad she was able to recover from this. Interesting read!

saima6400 Jul 23, 2018

I absolutely loved this book. I read it in a couple days because it did not feel like reading a biography, it felt like reading fiction. Not only could you not believe that this could happen to someone, but also because of her accessible writing style. Even when she was describing medical minutiae I was rivited and able to comprehend it. It was crazy to hear what she went through because it is hard to believe that someone who is articulate now could have possibly had these experiences. It makes you think that this could happen to anyone. She is an inspiring character and I would read the book again in a heartbeat.

Jul 10, 2018

Really great storytelling (you can tell she's a trained journalist), and she is so generous with such a deeply personal experience. Her story is inherently important--being that not many others have been so thoroughly documented for the general public--and beautifully written. I found it a little challenging to follow all of the medical aspects, but I can't fault her research, as it was phenomenally thorough (especially for an experience she has little first-hand memory of). You find yourself really cheering her on, while simultaneously fascinated by what's happening to her. She even ties her illness back to historical accounts of demonic possession, which really engaged the nerd in me. Overall, a super interesting read that's able to really draw readers in emotionally. Highly recommended.

Jul 06, 2018

What a terrifying experience and a fascinating read imho! All of it...even the occasional medical explanations (the book would be weak without them) maybe especially because of them. I couldn’t even imagine being the 217th person diagnosed from a rare disease that doctors haven’t even heard about that presents itself among other things as schizophrenia progressing to catatonia and sometimes death. I feel awful about the many undiagnosed people sitting in a mental hospital or worse being subjected to an exorcism instead of medical treatment!

Mar 22, 2018

I really enjoyed this book, I have some training in the immune system and I felt it was wonderfully explained. I really enjoyed the science and then the story!

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Jul 10, 2018

jade310 thinks this title is suitable for 17 years and over

May 12, 2015

shaylynnhunt thinks this title is suitable for 17 years and over

GSPLNadia Mar 13, 2015

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Add a Summary
Aug 11, 2016

A young reporter named Susannah Cahalan begins to have strange medical issues like seizures, mood swings and suicide attempts. The doctors think she has no hope. If it wasn't for her family and her boyfriend, she would have been put in a mental asylum.


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