Dimensions: 288 pages, 9 × 6 × 1 in
Published: November 13, 2012
Publisher: Free Press
The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN - 10: 145162137X
ISBN - 13: 9781451621372
Read from the Book
Brain on Fire CHAPTER 1 BEDBUG BLUES Maybe it all began with a bug bite, from a bedbug that didn’t exist. One morning, I’d woken up to find two red dots on the main purplish-blue vein running down my left arm. It was early 2009, and New York City was awash in bedbug scares: they infested offices, clothing stores, movie theaters, and park benches. Though I wasn’t naturally a worrier, my dreams had been occupied for two nights straight by finger-long bedbugs. It was a reasonable concern, though after carefully scouring the apartment, I couldn’t find a single bug or any evidence of their presence. Except those two bites. I even called in an exterminator to check out my apartment, an overworked Hispanic man who combed the whole place, lifting up my sofa bed and shining a flashlight into places I had never before thought to clean. He proclaimed my studio bug free. That seemed unlikely, so I asked for a follow-up appointment for him to spray. To his credit, he urged me to wait before shelling out an astronomical sum to do battle against what he seemed to think was an imaginary infestation. But I pressed him to do it, convinced that my apartment, my bed, my body had been overrun by bugs. He agreed to return and exterminate. Concerned as I was, I tried to conceal my growing unease from my coworkers. Understandably, no one wanted to be associated with a person with a bedbug problem. So at work the following day, I walked as nonchalantly as possible through the
From the Publisher
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 month-long 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.
Far more than simply a riveting read and a crackling medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity and to rediscover herself among the fragments left behind. Using all her considerable journalistic skills, and building from hospital records and surveillance video, interviews with family and friends, and excerpts from the deeply moving journal her father kept during her illness, Susannah pieces together the story of her “lost month” to write an unforgettable memoir about memory and identity, faith and love. It is an important, profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.
From Our Editors
INDIGO SPOTLIGHT: Brain on Fire is a riveting and shockingly brave book about a talented young woman’s descent into madness; unforgettable and impossible to put down.
At 24, Susannah Cahalan had a successful career as a journalist with the New York Post. She was bright, inquisitive, outgoing and popular. One morning she awoke with a migraine and developed some numbness in her left side, but her doctor found nothing obviously responsible. When days later she suffered violent seizures she was rushed to hospital where her condition became grave with alarming speed.
In the hospital she began suffering hallucinations, mood swings, insomnia and paranoia - exhaustive medical testing was not able to diagnose a root cause. It took a singularly talented neurologist, whose late arrival with a simple pen and paper test led to a diagnosis of a rare autoimmune disorder that resulted in inflammation in her brain. In effect, her brain had been under attack from her own body.
This is a remarkable debut. Cahalan is a tenacious writer and directly communicates the nightmare of losing herself and her sense of self to a disease no one could identify. Using her parent’s journals, hospital video footage and interviews with medical staff and loved ones, she pieces together what happened to her while she was literally losing her mind. The story she tells is terrifying and compelling. Brain on Fire will be of interest to readers of Girl Interrupted and Go Ask Alice.
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 w