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Brain on fire : my month of madness
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Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* In this fascinating memoir by a young New York Post reporter previously known for going undercover as a stripper and writing a butt-implant story headlined Rear and Present Danger, Cahalan describes how she crossed the line between sanity and insanity after an unknown pathogen invaded her body and caused an autoimmune reaction that jump-started brain inflammation, paranoia, and seizures. Her divorced parents put aside their differences and rose to the occasion, sitting by her during the month she was confined to the hospital, about which she remembers nothing. Her boyfriend stayed with her, and one wonderful doctor, noticing that she walked and talked like a late-stage Alzheimer's patient, was determined to get to the bottom of her medical mystery. Luckily, she was insured, because her treatment cost $1 million. Cahalan expertly weaves together her own story and relevant scientific and medical information about autoimmune diseases, which are about two-thirds environmental and one-third genetic in origin. So, she writes, an external trigger, such as a sneeze or a toxic apartment, probably combined with a genetic predisposition toward developing aggressive antibodies to create her problem. A compelling health story. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Library Journal Reviews

At age 24, New York Post reporter Cahalan was successfully launching a career and a first serious relationship when she entered a month of intensive violent and psychotic episodes that she does not remember even now. After $1 million worth of tests, the doctors were preparing to place her in a psychiatric ward when Dr. Souhel Najjar joined her team and diagnosed a newly discovered autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the brain. Cahalan's doctors now think that this disease may explain instances of presumed demonic possession throughout history. Meanwhile, herself again, Cahalan nervily reports this extraordinary experience. A big BEA buzz book.

[Page 48]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Journal Reviews

New York Post reporter Cahalan details the madness that briefly robbed her of her independence and ability to write. At first, the author's erratic behavior seemed symptomatic of overwork. Soon, her lack of physical control and frightening, self-destructive behavior became impossible to ignore. Following a string of misdiagnoses, a top neurologist recognized a then newly discovered autoimmune condition called anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis. With the help of her doctor and supportive family and boyfriend, Cahalan recovered and was back at work within a year. Though more journalistic in tone, the book parallels Sylvia Plath's literary classic The Bell Jar. VERDICT A compelling, quick read with a moving message. Cahalan's hip writing style, sympathetic characters, and suspenseful story will appeal to fans of medical thrillers and the television show House. Brief, informative biology and abnormal psychology discussions throughout the text will interest science students without slowing the narrative. Because Cahalan's condition is rare and its causes unknown, this book may save lives and promote empathy for those struggling with mental illness. [See Prepub Alert, 5/20/12.]—Chrissy Spallone, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Lib.

[Page 84]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Journal Reviews

Migraines, nausea, numbness, panic attacks, vertigo, depression, ennui. Yes, that's me before my first cup of coffee, but for Cahalan these symptoms started her descent into a very real hell on earth. Before her eventual hospital stint, a 25 day ordeal finally broken with a confirmed diagnosis, people just thought she was going batshit. As the symptoms worsened, it became like a very personal, wrenching, destructive, awful episode of House. Diagnoses varied; Capgras syndrome, Bipolar disorder, Postictal fury, multiple personality disorder, psychosis. Using lots and lots (and lots) of medicine, doctors rule out Lyme disease, Toxoplasmosis, Cryptococcus, TB, lupus, MS, and lymphoreticulosis. Nothing helped for the long-term; seizures, hallucinations, and episodic madness soon derailed the lives of Cahalan and her family. "No one wants to think of herself as a monster," she writes, but guess what? Harrowingly, Cahalan loses all "glimmers of the reliable ‘I,' the Susannah I had been for the previous twenty-four years," and is soon operating with "no rational consciousness…." Turns out she was "only the 217th person worldwide to be diagnosed since 2007," with anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis, a.k.a. Dalmau's disease. IMHO, it's pretty amazing that the doctors even got that far—this is the type of behavior that made folks execute witches. Cahalan is a gifted journalist and provides immense reading satisfaction by keeping the narrative moving and answering questions as they arise. She's also unafraid to paint herself in a weird, piteous light. And FYI, Ms. C., your new haircut looks really good. [LJ 11/1/12.—Ed.] (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

In 2009, Cahalan was in a serious relationship and her career as a reporter at the New York Post was taking off. But suddenly, as she tells it in this engaging memoir, she began suffering from a bizarre amalgam of debilitating symptoms including memory loss, paranoia, and severe psychosis that left her in a catatonic state that moved her close to death. Physicians remained baffled until one extraordinary doctor determined that Cahalan was "in the grip of some kind of autoimmune disease." Released from the hospital after 28 days, she had no memory of her stay there. DVDs recorded in the hospital were the only link she had to her startling condition. "Without this electronic evidence, I could never have imagined myself capable of such madness and misery," she writes. Focusing her journalistic toolbox on her story, Cahalan untangles the medical mystery surrounding her condition. She is dogged by one question: "How many other people throughout history suffered from my disease and others like it but went untreated? The question is made more pressing by the knowledge that even though the disease was discovered in 2007, some doctors I spoke to believe that it's been around at least as long as humanity has." A fast-paced and well-researched trek through a medical mystery to a hard-won recovery. (Nov.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC


A dramatic account of a young New York Post reporter's struggle with a rare brain-attacking autoimmune disease traces how she woke up in a hospital room under guard with no memory of baffling psychotic symptoms, describing the last-minute intervention by a brilliant doctor who identifies the source of her illness. 75,000 first printing. - (Baker & Taylor)

An account of the author's struggle with a rare brain-attacking autoimmune disease traces how she woke up in a hospital room with no memory of baffling psychotic symptoms, describing the last-minute intervention by a doctor who identified the source of her illness. - (Baker & Taylor)

Cahalan, a New York Post reporter, chronicles her sudden bout with bizarre symptoms and behavior initially diagnosed as due to a gamut of psychiatric and physical illnesses. She reports on how a newly identified rare autoimmune disease (anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis) was ultimately determined to be the cause, her doctors' search for the cause, her slow recovery, and her attempt to understand this "lost" period in her life. Anyone who has undergone the diagnosis and test gauntlet can relate to her and her family's ordeal. Annotation ©2013 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR ( - (Book News)

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 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. - (Simon and Schuster)

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