Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

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 monthlong 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.

Brain on Fire is a true account and it will leave you, at times, speechless.  I love watching medical dramas on television, but this is a real person. And what happened to her is very scary.  I couldn't even imagine waking up one morning, strapped to a bed, and not knowing what happened in the past month - especially when told you've been awake the whole time.

From the medical dramas I watch, there is usually a team of doctors trying to diagnose someone or someone gets misdiagnosed because the symptoms present themselves differently.  That's pretty much what happened to Susannah, but with quite a bit more things that convoluted things and made her sink into madness for a month.  It's fascinating reading, if not horrific at times, and Cahalan does it with complete candor.  I felt a myriad of emotions reading this book- - it was very hard to put down.  A fascinating, brilliant book told by a courageous woman.  Highly recommend!

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, "Why?" and sometimes he thought, "Wherefore?" and sometimes he thought, "Inasmuch as which?" and sometimes he didn't quite know what he was thinking about.

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