Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness Hardcover – Nov 13 2012
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“Harrowing . . . Cahalan's tale is . . . admirably well-researched and described. . . . This story has a happy ending, but take heed: It is a powerfully scary book.” (The Washington Post)
“A dramatic and suspenseful book that draws you into her story and holds you there until the last page. . . I recommend it highly.” (The Lancet)
“The bizarre and confounding illness that beset the 24-year-old New York Post reporter in early 2009 so ravaged her mentally and physically that she became unrecognizable to coworkers, family, friends, and—most devastatingly—herself… She dedicates this miracle of a book to ‘those without a diagnosis’… [An] unforgettable memoir.” (Elle)
“Swift and haunting.” (Scientific American)
“This fascinating memoir by a young New York Post reporter…describes how she crossed the line between sanity and insanity…Cahalan expertly weaves together her own story and relevant scientific information…compelling.”
(Booklist (starred review))
“Compelling…a New York Post reporter recounts her medical nightmare.” (Mental Floss)
“For the neurologist, I highly recommend this book on several grounds…First, it is a well-told story, worth reading for the suspense and the dramatic cadence of events…Second, it is a superb case study of a rare neurologic diagnosis; even experienced neurologists will find much to learn in it…Third, and most important, it gives the neurologist insight into how a patient and her family experienced a complex illness, including the terrifying symptoms, the difficult pace of medical diagnosis, and the slow recovery. This story clearly contains lessons for all of us.”
(Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology)
“Focusing her journalistic toolbox on her story, Cahalan untangles the medical mystery surrounding her condition…A fast-paced and well-researched trek through a medical mystery to a hard-won recovery.”
It's a cold March night in New York, and journalist Susannah Cahalan is watching PBS with her boyfriend, trying to relax after a difficult day at work. He falls asleep, and wakes up moments later to find her having a seizure straight out of The Exorcist. "My arms suddenly whipped straight out in front of me, like a mummy, as my eyes rolled back and my body stiffened," Cahalan writes. "I inhaled repeatedly, with no exhale. Blood and foam began to spurt out of my mouth through clenched teeth."
It's hard to imagine a scenario more nightmarish, but for Cahalan the worst was yet to come. In 2009, the New York Post reporter, then 24, was hospitalized after — there's really no other way to put it — losing her mind. In addition to the violent seizures, she was wracked by terrifying hallucinations, intense mood swings, insomnia and fierce paranoia. Cahalan spent a month in the hospital, barely recognizable to her friends and family, before doctors diagnosed her with a rare autoimmune disorder. "Her brain is on fire," one doctor tells her family. "Her brain is under attack by her own body."
Cahalan, who has since recovered, remembers almost nothing about her monthlong hospitalization — it's a merciful kind of amnesia that most people, faced with the same illness, would embrace. But the best reporters never stop asking questions, and Cahalan is no exception. In Brain on Fire, the journalist reconstructs — through hospital security videotapes and interviews with her friends, family and the doctors who finally managed to save her life — her hellish experience as a victim of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. The result is a kind of anti-memoir, an out-of-body personal account of a young woman's fight to survive one of the cruelest diseases imaginable. And on every level, it's remarkable.
The best journalists prize distance and objectivity, so it's not surprising that the most difficult subject for a news writer is probably herself. And although she's young, Cahalan belongs firmly to the old school of reporters — she writes with an incredible sense of toughness and a dogged refusal to stop digging into her past, even when it profoundly hurts. One of the most moving moments in Brain on Fire comes when Cahalan, preparing a New York Post article about her illness, watches videos of herself in the hospital. She's horrified, but finds that she can't look away. "I was outrageously skinny. Crazed. Angry," she writes. "I had the intense urge to grab the videos and burn them or at least hide them away, safe from view."
But she doesn't, and she barely flinches when her loved ones tell her about the paranoid delusions that held her firmly in their grasp for several weeks. There's no vanity in Brain on Fire — Cahalan recounts obsessively searching her boyfriend's email for signs that he was cheating on her (he wasn't) and loudly insisting to hospital workers that her father had killed his wife (she was alive). Cahalan is nothing if not tenacious, and she perfectly tempers her brutal honesty with compassion and something like vulnerability.
It's indisputable that Cahalan is a gifted reporter, and Brain on Fire is a stunningly brave book. But even more than that, she's a naturally talented prose stylist — whip-smart but always unpretentious — and it's nearly impossible to stop reading her, even in the book's most painful passages. Reflecting on finding a piece of jewelry she'd lost during her illness, she writes, "Sometimes, just when we need them, life wraps metaphors up in little bows for us. When you think all is lost, the things you need the most return unexpectedly."
Brain on Fire comes from a place of intense pain and unthinkable isolation, but finds redemption in Cahalan's unflagging, defiant toughness. It's an unexpected gift of a book from one of America's most courageous young journalists. (NPR.org)
About the Author
Susannah Cahalan is a news reporter at the New York Post whose award-winning work has also been featured in The New York Times. She lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
What a story. A true story of a woman's fight (the author) with a little known diesease called anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. Look it up for a full explanation of what it is. We went through her syptoms as they developed. We went through fears and worries as she stayed in hospital. We went through her recovery and return to society.
The author did a great job with controlling our emotions. The story took me down with her descent into madness as the disease took control of her life. Then she lifted us up with her miraculous diagnosis and recovery.
I liked how the author did not feel sorry for herself. She did wonder about why it happened to her and why she was so lucky to survive it.
The author did a good job of revealing her character in the book. This was critical to the story as the disease altered her character while it was developing. It could have altered her forever.
The book was easy to read and kept me engrossed. The chapters were short so I could read little bits of it here and there. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it.
Simon & Schuster|August 6, 2013|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-1-4516-2138-9
An award-winning memoir and instant New York Times bestseller that goes far beyond its riveting medical mystery. BRAIN ON FIRE is the powerful account of one woman's struggle to recapture her idenity.
When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she'd gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life; at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?
In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family's inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn't happen. "A fascinating look at the disease that...could have cost this vibrant, vital young woman her life" (People). BRAIN ON FIRE is an unforgettable exploration of memory and identity, faith and love, and a profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.
Susannah's story is almost unbelievable, but it is real. It just shows how complex our brains really are and how quickly something unexpected can happen. During her month into hell, I wasn't sure she was going to make it out the other end. If it hadn't been for the dedication and devotion of one specific doctor she most likely would have lost her mind forever and never regained her self.
The story was riveting to say the least and kept me glued to my seat. The medical jargon was explained in layman's terms so it was easy to understand exactly what was going on with Susannah each step of the way.
I would highly recommend this book to friends and relatives.
Brain on Fire is the story of Susannah Cahalan's mystery story of a rare illness. No one knows what is happening to her but family, friends and doctors can tell that there is something going on. But what is it? Test result, after test result come back negative but Susannah's mental and psychical state is becoming worse and doctors can't find anything wrong with her. Throughout the month Susannah becomes someone else. This is a story of Susannah's and her close friends difficult journey when her brain was on fire.
Yes, I'll admit that some of the language, like the medical terminology and statistics did overwhelm at times and I had to read this book little by little, however I still really enjoying it.
Reading about memoirs fascinate me. The stories of people's lives interest me and especially those who have such a different lifestyle and/or growing up story than myself. Let's just say I love to know how the other side lives. I like to know how other people are doing from their point of view. It's just so interesting to me. Or just the fact that I like to know everything.
Susannah does a great job telling it how it was from what she gathered in researching her month of madness. Detailed of when her brain was on fire, which I believe when writing the story was hard for her to tell the whole world "embarrassing" details.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
I couldn't put this down! It is a fascinating read- lots of medical jargon, but a really important story.Published 10 days ago by Melissa R Paolozza
Great read! Such an interesting story about a mystery diagnosis. Easy to follow along as the writer explains everything so remarkably. Would recommend 10/10.Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
I was really hoping for a little more from this book, I suppose. The writing seemed almost as disjointed as the illness...maybe that was the point? Read morePublished 4 months ago by Britty Books
Excellent and intriguing! I couldn't put it down. Captivated me the entire time. I would recommend to anyone!Published 4 months ago by Jane Butters
I read this book and was heavily drawn to the fact about autoimmune disorders. I feel alone with my auto immune disorder accepting what has been said to me by my family doctor and... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Barb Munro