Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Brain on Fire, by Susannah Cahalan

Susannah Cahalan, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. New York: Free Press, 2012. 266 pages. ISBN 978451621372.

This is another book that I came across in my massive weeding project! I had heard someone speak about the book at the 2012 BEA convention, and brought a copy home to read. As I was sorting through my books trying to decide which ones to keep, I got drawn into Brain on Fire. I started out skimming, and before I knew it, half of the afternoon was gone!

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness is a riveting story of a young woman who very quickly descended into what appeared to be a mental illness. Doctors who were brought in to consult conjectured about a wide variety of possible diagnoses. One doctor claimed that she was partying too much and not getting enough sleep, another hypothesized that she was bipolar. In the end, she was lucky enough to get a doctor on her case who was familiar with recent research showing that an inflammation caused by a uterine tumor could cause illnesses such as she was experiencing. While she didn’t prove to have the tumor which is commonly present with this illness, tests did in fact indicate that she had an inflammation of the right side of her brain, and she responded to the recommended treatment for this illness. Back on the job as a reporter for the New York Post, she wrote an article about her experience, which she later turned into this fascinating book.

As I mentioned, once I started this book, I couldn't stop reading it. It's a frightening story, showing us how quickly one’s life can be turned upside down by an illness that doctors are unfamiliar with. If she hadn’t been diagnosed in time, she could have died or been sentenced for life to an institution for the mentally ill. I recommend this book to anyone interested in scary, true life, medical dramas.

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