Brain on Fire: my month of madness

brain-on-fire

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 identity.

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, Cahalan 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.

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Brain on Fire is sooooo good you guys. I read it in one sitting after work and it is a decently large nonfic. It was already on my radar and then my amazing coworker April was talking it up in the breakroom one day so I picked it up as soon as she returned it. I already knew the premise of the story and that it was based on a true story, but I could not put it down all night.

Cahalan spent months researching her “lost period” by putting together diary excerpts her parents wrote at the time, watching video feed of herself, reading medical reports and interviewing anyone who she had contact with while she was slowly losing her mind.

Using her journalism skills, she recreated the account of her illness as closely as possibly and turned it into a compelling story that not only touches the reader but has transformed the lives of so many others who would ultimately be diagnosed with the same rare illness, thanks to the publicity Cahalan’s story has created.

As incredibly smart as most medical specialists are, and as remarkable as the machines and tests mankind have devised are, when you are in a situation such as Cahalan’s, you realize that medicine is more of an art than a science. Doctors don’t know as much as you think they do.

At first I thought that Cahalan would be diagnosed with schizophrenia or something similar, and to be fair she was. Incorrectly. Her medical diagnosis would be much more difficult to pin down and require dozens of tests, more than a million dollars, and a considerable amount of luck.

As the book progresses, less and less of the story is told from Cahalan’s own recollections and journal entries of the time and therefore becomes more heavily reliant on third party testimony, as her ability to communicate deteriorated. It has the potential to be depressing except that it is an autobiography of sorts. So you know that there is a happy ending coming from somewhere, even if you don’t know from where.

Brain on Fire: my month of madness is a compelling story of a mystery medical diagnosis, and the race to discover a young women’s illness before her dire symptoms become irreversible.

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xx

 

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