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, 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.
astonishing memoir chronicles the swift path of her illness and the
lucky, last-minute intervention led by one of the few doctors capable of
saving her life. As weeks ticked by and Susannah moved inexplicably
from violence to catatonia, $1 million worth of blood tests and brain
scans revealed nothing. The exhausted doctors were ready to commit her
to the psychiatric ward, in effect condemning her to a lifetime of
institutions, or death, until Dr. Souhel Najjar—nicknamed Dr.
House—joined her team. He asked Susannah to draw one simple sketch,
which became key to diagnosing her with a newly discovered autoimmune
disease in which her body was attacking her brain, an illness now
thought to be the cause of “demonic possessions” throughout history.
sharp reporting drawn from hospital records, scientific research, and
interviews with doctors and family, Brain on Fire is a crackling mystery
and an unflinching, gripping personal story that marks the debut of an
I wanted to read more nonfiction this year and stumbled upon this book on Goodreads. I decided to go with the audiobook because I was in a book funk and honestly I didn't feel like reading. There is a lot of medical jargon and I think actually reading it would have slowed me down.
This book was a terrifying look into mental health. You saw this intelligent woman go through a spiral with so many twists and turns that you feared she would never be free of it. She had so many symptoms that reminded me of so many different potential diagnoses that I feared what would come next. My psychology degree came in helpful because I understood about the different parts of the brain as well as some of the disorders discussed. At times I felt like I knew what was wrong and the next second I had no idea.
I loved that she talked about her relationship with her family and boyfriend and how that changed throughout her illness. I think the emotional aspect really let you see what her illness was doing to her. Her illness transformed everything about her and her loved ones were put through the ringer in the process.
The only aspect of the book that I did not enjoy was after her diagnosis. I enjoyed hearing about her recovery, but she goes into statistics about other people and it got a little boring. I just feel like there was too much after her diagnosis for me. It just dragged on a little. I still thoroughly enjoyed this memoir.