Summary: One day, Susannah Cahalan woke up in a strange hospital room, strapped to her bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. Her medical records, from a month-long hospital stay of which she had no memory, showed 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…Read more.
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Susannah Cahalan: Brain on Fire Audio Book Summary
Written by New York Post writer Susannah Cahalan, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness is an autobiographical account of Cahalan’s struggle with a rare form of encephalitis. Published in 2012, the book was a New York Times best-seller.
The book, which is autobiographical, discusses Cahalan’s experience with a rare anti-NMDA receptor encaphilitis, and takes the perspective of her personal experience of how she was diagnosed with the disease and the treatment she went through in order to overcome it.
Catalan writes that she woke up in critical care in a hospital, with no recollection of any of the events that happened to her in the previous month. She experienced extremely violent episodes and intense delusions. She was misdiagnosed multiple times, with theories ranging from a substance abuse problem to schizophrenia, before physicians realized that the true cause of Cahalan’s issues were originating from an autoimmune disorder.
Dr. Souhel Najjar eventually diagnosed the true source of the issue by asking Catalan to draw a simple picture of a clock, a test normally reserved for people suffering from dementia. Catalan was unable to draw a clock correctly, instead placing all of the numbers on one half of the clock-face, leading Dr. Najjar to conclude that the issue was caused by an inflammation in the right hemisphere of Cahalan’s brain.
After recovering, Catalan began to research her encaphiltis further, finding that the rare variation she suffered from had only been discovered a few years earlier, and that a small minority of the people suffering from the disease, perhaps as little as ten percent, were ever diagnosed correctly.
The author also explores her recollected experiences with mental disorder prior to her episode, as she had previously been misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder, which, in fact, had been the inflammation of her right brain causing preliminary versions of the disorder.
Brain on Fire is a fascinating personal narrative of an intense and dangerous experience surviving and recovering from a rare mental disorder. It combines an insightful individual account with well-researched medical data and case studies to provide additional context, woven together in a wonderful lyrical style. NPR even noted that Cahalan’s was an excellent author, writing that she was a “naturally talented prose stylist” who “naturally tempers brutal honesty with compassion and something like vulnerability.”
The book is currently in the process of being adapted into a film starring actress Chloe Grace Moretz.