Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness [NOOK Book]

Overview

An award-winning memoir and instant New York Times bestseller that goes far beyond its riveting medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity.

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the ...
See more details below
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK Study
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$5.99
BN.com price
(Save 48%)$11.66 List Price

Overview

An award-winning memoir and instant New York Times bestseller that goes far beyond its riveting medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity.

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen. “A fascinating look at the disease that…could have cost this vibrant, vital young woman her life” (People), Brain on Fire is an unforgettable exploration of memory and identity, faith and love, and a profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.

Winner of the 2012 Books for a Better Life Award for First Book

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

"One day," Susannah Cahalan writes, "I woke up in a strange hospital room, strapped to my bed, unable to move or speak. My medical records—from a month-long hospital stay of which I have no memory—showed psychosis, violence, and dangerous instability. Yet only weeks earlier I had been a healthy twenty-four year old, six months into my first serious relationship and beginning a career as a cub reporter at the New York Post." Cobbled together through hospital records and interviews with her family, her boyfriend, friends, and doctors, Cahalan's Brain on Fire captures the astonishing story of a young woman lost in the throes of an autoimmune disease that scientists are still trying to understand better. One unforgettable read.

The New York Times Book Review - Michael Greenberg
Brain on Fire is at its most captivating when describing the torturous process of how doctors arrived at [the] diagnosis…At its best, Cahalan's prose carries a sharp, unsparing, tabloid punch in the tradition of Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin.
The Washington Post - Maggie Scarf
Cahalan's tale is told in straightforward journalistic prose and is admirably well-researched and described. Because she has no memory of her "month of madness," the story rests on doctors' notes and recollections, hospital films, her father's journals, both parents' recounting of what happened, and the reminiscences of her devoted boyfriend and those of her many friends and relatives. This story has a happy ending, but take heed: It is a powerfully scary book.
Publishers Weekly
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.)
The Lancet
“A dramatic and suspenseful book that draws you into her story and holds you there until the last page. . . I recommend it highly.”
From the Publisher
“Harrowing . . . Cahalan's tale is . . . admirably well-researched and described. . . . This story has a happy ending, but take heed: It is a powerfully scary book.”

“A dramatic and suspenseful book that draws you into her story and holds you there until the last page. . . I recommend it highly.”

“The bizarre and confounding illness that beset the 24-year-old New York Post reporter in early 2009 so ravaged her mentally and physically that she became unrecognizable to coworkers, family, friends, and—most devastatingly—herself… She dedicates this miracle of a book to ‘those without a diagnosis’… [An] unforgettable memoir.”

“Swift and haunting.”

“This fascinating memoir by a young New York Post reporter…describes how she crossed the line between sanity and insanity…Cahalan expertly weaves together her own story and relevant scientific information…compelling.”

“Compelling…a New York Post reporter recounts her medical nightmare.”

“For the neurologist, I highly recommend this book on several grounds…First, it is a well-told story, worth reading for the suspense and the dramatic cadence of events…Second, it is a superb case study of a rare neurologic diagnosis; even experienced neurologists will find much to learn in it…Third, and most important, it gives the neurologist insight into how a patient and her family experienced a complex illness, including the terrifying symptoms, the difficult pace of medical diagnosis, and the slow recovery. This story clearly contains lessons for all of us.”

“Focusing her journalistic toolbox on her story, Cahalan untangles the medical mystery surrounding her condition…A fast-paced and well-researched trek through a medical mystery to a hard-won recovery.”

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 with her friends, family and the doctors who finally managed to save her life — her hellish experience as a victim of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. The result is a kind of anti-memoir, an out-of-body personal account of a young woman's fight to survive one of the cruelest diseases imaginable. And on every level, it's remarkable.

The best journalists prize distance and objectivity, so it's not surprising that the most difficult subject for a news writer is probably herself. And although she's young, Cahalan belongs firmly to the old school of reporters — she writes with an incredible sense of toughness and a dogged refusal to stop digging into her past, even when it profoundly hurts. One of the most moving moments in Brain on Fire comes when Cahalan, preparing a New York Post article about her illness, watches videos of herself in the hospital. She's horrified, but finds that she can't look away. "I was outrageously skinny. Crazed. Angry," she writes. "I had the intense urge to grab the videos and burn them or at least hide them away, safe from view."

But she doesn't, and she barely flinches when her loved ones tell her about the paranoid delusions that held her firmly in their grasp for several weeks. There's no vanity in Brain on Fire — Cahalan recounts obsessively searching her boyfriend's email for signs that he was cheating on her (he wasn't) and loudly insisting to hospital workers that her father had killed his wife (she was alive). Cahalan is nothing if not tenacious, and she perfectly tempers her brutal honesty with compassion and something like vulnerability.

It's indisputable that Cahalan is a gifted reporter, and Brain on Fire is a stunningly brave book. But even more than that, she's a naturally talented prose stylist — whip-smart but always unpretentious — and it's nearly impossible to stop reading her, even in the book's most painful passages. Reflecting on finding a piece of jewelry she'd lost during her illness, she writes, "Sometimes, just when we need them, life wraps metaphors up in little bows for us. When you think all is lost, the things you need the most return unexpectedly."

Brain on Fire comes from a place of intense pain and unthinkable isolation, but finds redemption in Cahalan's unflagging, defiant toughness. It's an unexpected gift of a book from one of America's most courageous young journalists.

New York Times Book Review
“Captivating…Cahalan’s prose carries a sharp, unsparing tabloid punch in the tradition of Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin.”
People magazine
“A fascinating look at the disease that – if not for a nick-of-time diagnosis – could have cost this vibrant, vital young woman her life.”
BookForum
"An intense, mesmerizing account of survival. . . Cahalan's deft descriptions of her spooky hallucinations could be right out of a Poe terror tale."
NPR.org
"The best reporters never stop asking questions, and Cahalan is no exception...The result is a kind of anti-memoir, an out-of-body personal account of a young woman's fight to survive one of the cruelest diseases imaginable. And on every level, it's remarkable.....Cahalan is nothing if not tenacious, and she perfectly tempers her brutal honesty with compassion and something like vulnerability. It's indisputable that Cahalan is a gifted reporter, and Brain on Fire is a stunningly brave book. But even more than that, she's a naturally talented prose stylist — whip-smart but always unpretentious — and it's nearly impossible to stop reading her, even in the book's most painful passages....Brain on Fire comes from a place of intense pain and unthinkable isolation, but finds redemption in Cahalan's unflagging, defiant toughness. It's an unexpected gift of a book from one of America's most courageous young journalists."
The Daily Texan
“What is most impressive about “Brain on Fire” is that Cahalan has little recollection of her month of insanity…. Thanks partially to her talent as a journalist and to the fact that her parents kept journals, Cahalan was able to recapture her month, leaving no holes in the narrative.”
The Washington Post
“Harrowing . . . Cahalan's tale is . . . admirably well-researched and described. . . . This story has a happy ending, but take heed: It is a powerfully scary book.”
Booklist (starred review)
“This fascinating memoir by a young New York Post reporter…describes how she crossed the line between sanity and insanity…Cahalan expertly weaves together her own story and relevant scientific information…compelling.”
Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology
“For the neurologist, I highly recommend this book on several grounds…First, it is a well-told story, worth reading for the suspense and the dramatic cadence of events…Second, it is a superb case study of a rare neurologic diagnosis; even experienced neurologists will find much to learn in it…Third, and most important, it gives the neurologist insight into how a patient and her family experienced a complex illness, including the terrifying symptoms, the difficult pace of medical diagnosis, and the slow recovery. This story clearly contains lessons for all of us.”
Elle
“The bizarre and confounding illness that beset the 24-year-old New York Post reporter in early 2009 so ravaged her mentally and physically that she became unrecognizable to coworkers, family, friends, and—most devastatingly—herself… She dedicates this miracle of a book to ‘those without a diagnosis’… [An] unforgettable memoir.”
Scientific American
“Swift and haunting.”
Booklist
“This fascinating memoir by a young New York Post reporter…describes how she crossed the line between sanity and insanity…Cahalan expertly weaves together her own story and relevant scientific information…compelling.”
Mental Floss
“Compelling…a New York Post reporter recounts her medical nightmare.”
Library Journal
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.
Library Journal
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.
Kirkus Reviews
A young journalist's descent into her own baffling medical mystery. In her debut memoir, New York Post reporter Cahalan recounts her struggle to understand an unremembered month lost to illness. Cobbled together from interviews, medical records, notebooks, journals and video footage, the author conjures the traumatic memories of her harrowing ordeal. What began as numbness in her hands and feet soon grew into something more serious, climaxing in a terrifying seizure witnessed by her boyfriend. "My arms suddenly whipped straight out in front of me, like a mummy," she writes, "as my eyes rolled back and my body stiffened….Blood and foam began to spurt out of my mouth through clenched teeth." The mystery thickened as doctors struggled to agree on a diagnosis. While the uncertainty proved maddening for her family members, however, it was also what bonded them together. Cahalan's estranged parents, in particular, found a common purpose as a result of their daughter's plight, putting her health before old hardships. After numerous tests revealed nothing, an observed increase of white blood cells in her cerebrospinal fluid eventually clued in medical professionals. Diagnosed with anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis--a rare autoimmune disease with a cure--Cahalan and her family embarked on the long, hard road to recovery. Through the lonesomeness of her illness, a community emerged, the members of which were dedicated to returning the author to her former life as a beloved daughter, sister, lover and friend. A valiant attempt to recount a mostly forgotten experience, though the many questions that remain may prove frustrating to some readers.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451621396
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 11/13/2012
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 713
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Susannah Cahalan is a news reporter at the New York Post whose award-winning work has also been featured in The New York Times. She lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt


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 newsroom of the New York Post to my cubicle. I was careful to conceal my bites and tried to appear casual, normal. Not that “normal” means a lot at the Post.

Though it’s notoriously obsessed with what’s new, the Post is nearly as old as the nation itself. Established by Alexander Hamilton in 1801, it is the longest continually run newspaper in the country. In its first century alone, the paper crusaded for the abolition movement and helped promote the creation of Central Park. Today the newsroom itself is cavernous yet airless, filled with rows of open cubicles and a glut of filing cabinets packed with decades of unused, forgotten documents. The walls are freckled with clocks that don’t run, dead flowers hung upside down to dry, a picture of a monkey riding a border collie, and a big foam Six Flags finger, all memorabilia from reporters’ assignments. The PCs are ancient, the copy machines the size of small ponies. A small utility closet that once served as a smoking room now holds supplies, and is marked by a weathered sign warning that the smoking room no longer exists, as if someone might accidentally wander in for a cigarette among the monitors and video equipment. This has been my eccentric little world for the past seven years, since I started here as a seventeen-year-old intern.

Especially around deadline, the room buzzes with activity—keyboards clacking, editors yelling, reporters cackling—the perfect stereotype of a tabloid newsroom.

“Where’s the fucking picture to go with this caption?”

“How is it that he didn’t know she was a prostitute?”

“What color were the socks of the guy who jumped off the bridge?”

It’s like a bar without alcohol, filled with adrenaline-soaked news junkies. The cast of characters here is unique to the Post: the brightest headline writers in the business, the hardened newshounds hunting after exclusives, and type-A workaholics who possess the chameleon ability to either befriend or antagonize almost anyone. Still, on most days, the newsroom is subdued, as everyone silently combs through court documents, interviews sources, or reads newspapers. Often, like today, the newsroom is as quiet as a morgue.

Heading toward my desk to start the day, I wove through the rows of cubicles marked by green Manhattan street signs: Liberty Street, Nassau Street, Pine Street, and William Street, throwbacks to a time when the Post was actually flanked by those downtown streets in its previous home at the South Street Seaport. My desk is at Pine Street. Amid the silence, I slid into my seat beside Angela, my closest friend at the paper, and gave her a tense smile. Trying not to let my question echo too loudly across the noiseless room, I asked, “You know anything about bedbug bites?”

I often joked that if I ever had a daughter, I’d want her to be like Angela. In many ways, she is my newsroom hero. When I first met her, three years before, she was a soft-spoken, shy young woman from Queens, only a few years older than me. She had arrived at the Post from a small weekly paper and since then had matured under the pressure of a big-city tabloid into one of the Post’s most talented reporters, churning out reams of our best stories. Most late Friday nights, you’d find Angela writing four stories on split screens simultaneously. I couldn’t help but look up to her. Now I really needed her advice.

Hearing that dreaded word, bedbugs, Angela scooted her chair away from mine. “Don’t tell me you have them,” she said with an impish smile. I started to show her my arm, but before I could get into my tale of woe, my phone rang.

“You ready?” It was the new Sunday editor, Steve. He was just barely in his midthirties, yet he had already been named head editor of the Sunday paper, the section I worked for, and despite his friendliness, he intimidated me. Every Tuesday, each reporter had a pitch meeting to showcase some of his or her ideas for that Sunday’s paper. At the sound of his voice, I realized with panic that I was completely unprepared for this week’s meeting. Usually I had at least three coherent ideas to pitch; they weren’t always great, but I always had something. Now I had nothing, not even enough to bluff my way through the next five minutes. How had I let that happen? This meeting was impossible to forget, a weekly ritual that we all fastidiously prepared for, even during days off.

Bedbugs forgotten, I widened my eyes at Angela as I stood back up, gamely hoping it all would work out once I got to Steve’s office.

Nervously, I walked back down “Pine Street” and into Steve’s office. I sat down next to Paul, the Sunday news editor and close friend who had mentored me since I was a sophomore in college, giving him a nod but avoiding direct eye contact. I readjusted my scratched-up wide-framed Annie Hall glasses, which a publicist friend once described as my own form of birth control because “no one will sleep with you with those on.”

We sat there in silence for a moment, as I tried to let myself be comforted by Paul’s familiar, larger-than-life presence. With his shock of prematurely white hair and his propensity to toss the word fuck around like a preposition, he is the essence of a throwback newsman and a brilliant editor.

He had given me a shot as a reporter during the summer of my sophomore year of college after a family friend introduced us. After a few years in which I worked as a runner, covering breaking news and feeding information to another reporter to write the piece, Paul offered me my first big assignment: an article on the debauchery at a New York University fraternity house. When I returned with a story and pictures of me playing beer pong, he was impressed with my chutzpah; even though the exposé never ran, he assigned me more stories until I had been hired on full time in 2008. Now, as I sat in Steve’s office wholly unprepared, I couldn’t help but feel like a work in progress, not worthy of Paul’s faith and respect.

The silence deepened until I looked up. Steve and Paul were staring at me expectantly, so I just started talking, hoping something would come. “I saw this story on a blog . . . ,” I said, desperately plucking up wisps of half-formed ideas.

“That’s really just not good enough,” Steve interrupted. “You need to be bringing in better stuff than this. Okay? Please don’t come in with nothing again.” Paul nodded, his face blazing red. For the first time since I’d started working on my high school newspaper, journalism disagreed with me. I left the meeting furious at myself and bewildered by my own ineptitude.

“You okay?” Angela asked as I returned to my desk.

“Yeah, you know, I’m just bad at my job. No big deal,” I joked grimly.

She laughed, revealing a few charmingly crooked incisor teeth. “Oh, come on, Susannah. What happened? Don’t take it seriously. You’re a pro.”

“Thanks, Ang,” I said, sipping my lukewarm coffee. “Things just aren’t going my way.”

I brooded over the day’s disasters that evening as I walked west from the News Corp. building on Sixth Avenue, through the tourist clusterfuck that is Times Square, toward my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. As if purposely living the cliché of a New York writer, I rented a cramped one-room studio, where I slept on a pullout sofa. The apartment, eerily quiet, overlooked the courtyard of several tenements, and I often awoke not to police sirens and grumbling garbage trucks but to the sound of a neighbor playing the accordion on his balcony.

Still obsessed with my bites, despite the exterminator’s assurance that I had nothing to worry about, I prepared for him to spray the place and spent that night discarding things that could be harboring bedbugs. Into the garbage went my beloved Post clips, hundreds of articles reminding me of how bizarre my job is: the victims and suspects, dangerous slums, prisons and hospitals, twelve-hour shifts spent shivering inside photographers’ cars waiting to photograph—or “pop”—celebrities. I had always loved every minute of it. So why was I suddenly so terrible at it?

As I shoved these treasures into the trash bags, I paused on a few headlines, among them the biggest story of my career to date: the time I managed to land an exclusive jailhouse interview with child kidnapper Michael Devlin. The national media were hot on the story, and I was only a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, yet Devlin spoke to me twice. But the story didn’t end there. His lawyers went nuts after the article ran, launching a smear campaign against the Post and calling for a judicial gag order, while the local and national media began debating my methods on live TV and questioning the ethics of jailhouse interviews and tabloids in general. Paul fielded several tearful phone calls from me during that time, which bound us together, and in the end, both the paper and my editors stood by me. Though the experience had rattled me, it also whetted my appetite, and from then on, I became the resident “jailhouser.” Devlin was eventually sentenced to three consecutive lifetimes in prison.

Then there was the butt implant story, “Rear and Present Danger,” a headline that still makes me laugh. I had to go undercover as a stripper looking for cheap butt enhancements from a woman who was illegally dispensing them out of a midtown hotel room. As I stood there with my pants around my ankles, I tried not to be insulted when she announced that she would need “a thousand dollars per cheek,” twice the amount she charged the woman who had come forward to the Post.

Journalism was thrilling; I had always loved living a reality that was more fabulist than fiction, though little did I know that my life was about to become so bizarre as to be worthy of coverage in my own beloved tabloid.

Even though the memory made me smile, I added this clip to the growing trash pile—“where it belongs,” I scoffed, despite the fact that those crazy stories had meant the world to me. Though it felt necessary at the moment, this callous throwing away of years’ worth of work was completely out of character for me. I was a nostalgic pack rat, who held on to poems that I had written in fourth grade and twenty-some-odd diaries that dated back to junior high. Though there didn’t seem to be much of a connection among my bedbug scare, my forgetfulness at work, and my sudden instinct to purge my files, what I didn’t know then is that bug obsession can be a sign of psychosis. It’s a little-known problem, since those suffering from parasitosis, or Ekbom syndrome, as it’s called, are most likely to consult exterminators or dermatologists for their imaginary infestations instead of mental health professionals, and as a result they frequently go undiagnosed.1 My problem, it turns out, was far vaster than an itchy forearm and a forgotten meeting.

After hours of packing everything away to ensure a bedbug-free zone, I still didn’t feel any better. As I knelt by the black garbage bags, I was hit with a terrible ache in the pit of my stomach—that kind of free-floating dread that accompanies heartbreak or death. When I got to my feet, a sharp pain lanced my mind, like a white-hot flash of a migraine, though I had never suffered from one before. As I stumbled to the bathroom, my legs and body just wouldn’t react, and I felt as if I were slogging through quicksand. I must be getting the flu, I thought.

This might not have been the flu, though, the same way there may have been no bedbugs. But there likely was a pathogen of some sort that had invaded my body, a little germ that set everything in motion. Maybe it came from that businessman who had sneezed on me in the subway a few days before, releasing millions of virus particles onto the rest of us in that subway car? Or maybe it was in something I ate or something that slipped inside me through a tiny wound on my skin, maybe through one of those mysterious bug bites?

There my mind goes again.2

The doctors don’t actually know how it began for me. What’s clear is that if that man had sneezed on you, you’d most likely just get a cold. For me, it flipped my universe upside down and very nearly sent me to an asylum for life.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Preface xi

Part 1 Crazy

Chapter 1 Bedbug Blues 3

Chapter 2 The Girl in the Black Lace Bra 10

Chapter 3 Carota 13

Chapter 4 The Wrestler 20

Chapter 5 Cold Roses 24

Chapter 6 America's Most Wanted 27

Chapter 7 On the Road Again 31

Chapter 8 Out-of-Body Experience 40

Chapter 9 A Touch of Madness 43

Chapter 10 Mixed Episodes 51

Chapter 11 Keppra 54

Chapter 12 The Ruse 61

Chapter 13 Buddha 65

Chapter 14 Search and Seizure 70

Part 2 The Clock

Chapter 15 The Capgras Delusion 75

Chapter 16 Postictal Fury 80

Chapter 17 Multiple Personality Disorder 83

Chapter 18 Breaking News 86

Chapter 19 Big Man 91

Chapter 20 The Slope of the Line 95

Chapter 21 Death with Interruptions 100

Chapter 22 A Beautiful Mess 106

Chapter 23 Dr. Najjar 113

Chapter 24 IVIG 116

Chapter 25 Blue Devil Fit 121

Chapter 26 The Clock 127

Chapter 27 Brain Biopsy 135

Chapter 28 Shadowboxer 143

Chapter 29 Dalmau's Disease 146

Chapter 30 Rhubarb 152

Chapter 31 The Big Reveal 156

Chapter 32 90 Percent 161

Chapter 33 Homecoming 165

Chapter 34 California Dreamin' 169

Part 3 In Search of Lost Time

Chapter 35 The Videotape 175

Chapter 36 Stuffed Animals 176

Chapter 37 Wild at Heart 180

Chapter 38 Friends 184

Chapter 39 Within Normal Limits 189

Chapter 40 Umbrella 194

Chapter 41 Chronology 197

Chapter 42 Infinite Jest 202

Chapter 43 NDMA 207

Chapter 44 Partial Return 210

Chapter 45 The Five W's 214

Chapter 46 Grand Rounds 218

Chapter 47 The Exorcist 221

Chapter 48 Survivor's Guilt 229

Chapter 49 Hometown Boy Makes Good 236

Chapter 50 Ecstatic 238

Chapter 51 Flight Risk? 242

Chapter 52 Madame X 246

Chapter 53 The Purple Lady 249

Notes 251

Acknowledgments 261

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 175 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(100)

4 Star

(48)

3 Star

(17)

2 Star

(7)

1 Star

(3)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 175 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 11, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Profoundly moving, comelling ndconsuming

    This is a profoundly moving, true story of a young woman who, over the course of a few weeks, spirals into almost total madness. Her loved ones stay by her side throughout her month long hospitalization watching doctor after doctor doing test after test handing down diagnosis after diagnosis. When a doctor mentions a rare disease that may be the cause of the young woman’s illness, her parents are left to decide whether or not to allow a test that may cause permanent brain damage.
    Susannah Cahalan’s account of her life before, during and after her battle with mental illness is very well written and surprisingly readable. As she delves into the working of the human brain the reading becomes a little dry but by the next paragraph, the reader is once again swept up into a story that is consuming and compelling.
    I was extremely moved by this book and strongly recommend it.

    68 out of 72 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 26, 2013

    This is a remarkable book. Author Susannah Cahalan is courageou

    This is a remarkable book. Author Susannah Cahalan is courageous as she shares her personal experience of “madness”. She brilliantly writes about her bizarre and confounding illness that stumped many neurologists and takes us through her and her family’s journey as they searched for answers to restore her health. This book is inspiring for people/families who have ever experienced a loved one who has been misdiagnosed or has experienced loss in brain functionality. I feel more informed and empowered by reading Cahalan’s true story.

    As a person who has had a loved one experience rapid loss of brain function, I highly recommend reading this book. I also recommend any books written by Ariel and Shya Kane. I found great comfort reading their book “Being Here: Modern Day Tales of Enlightenment” when my father had a stroke. I found answers how to best support him and my family during this period of our lives. I highly recommend reading Cahalan’s book and seeking out the Kanes to support well-being in your life.

    23 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 19, 2012

    Susannah Cahalan, a bright young reporter for the New York Post,

    Susannah Cahalan, a bright young reporter for the New York Post, a talented writer with a career full of promise, suddenly began losing her mind. One day she was doing brilliant research, and the next day she was too obsessive-compulsive about bed bugs to complete her assignment. Then she couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t track conversations, couldn’t compose a simple paragraph. All for no apparent reason.

    Day by day, hour by hour, reality slipped away as terror took over. Susannah doesn’t remember the trip to the hospital or being admitted, but what she knew for sure was that she didn’t belong there. The morning after a failed attempt to escape, she told the attending neurologist:

    “You need to let me out of here. I don’t belong here. They’re all saying bad things about me.”

    “Who’s talking to you?”

    “The people on the TV.”

    She also heard people’s thoughts, frightening thoughts about herself.

    Then she discerned that her parents set up the whole scene: the doctors, the nurses, all of it, in order to trick her into being forced into the medical center. It was all one giant conspiracy.

    In this candid and brave memoir, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Susannah Cahalan reveals how it feels to be trapped inside a mind that’s playing tricks and in a body that won’t cooperate. It’s all here: the madness, the details about the team of medical experts who tried every possibility to help her, her family’s and boyfriend’s responses, and the reaction of lifelong friends and strangers.

    Her story is fascinating, horrifying, and most importantly, educational. We learn about the medical tests, the logic of the diagnostic hypotheses, and how the human brain works. We learn the questions the doctors struggled over, including the bet between two doctors as to what the correct diagnosis might be. It even includes original notes and drawings from her hospital stay.

    What was destroying Susannah’s mind? Was it bipolar disorder? Schizophrenia? Alcohol poisoning? Allergic reactions? Epilepsy? Demonic possession? No one knew and nothing they tried was working. In the meantime, she lost the ability to read and most of her speech.

    The one thing everyone agreed on is that something needed to be done fast in order to save Susannah’s life.

    This is more than a medical memoir; it is also a story of true and enduring love. Her mother and father, divorced and estranged, put aside their personal feelings to stay by their daughter’s side through it all. Her boyfriend, the one her father thought of as a “temporary place holder” showed his true heart and strength by his actions. This part of the story is also important, because it shows the tenacity of love and loyalty.

    My favorite part of the book is when her father gets down on his knees and prays for his daughter; and her mother, a Jewish skeptic, meets with a Baptist co-worker to join hands in prayer. Right after this, the family is led to a gifted specialist from Pennsylvania. A corner is turned, and in the end, Susannah Cahalan writes this amazing book. Near the conclusion, she writes that she makes a list of people to thank. I have to say, I hope God is on that list.

    Fantastic book. Highly recommended.

    16 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 28, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    This book made me terrified of my own body. This can actually ha

    This book made me terrified of my own body. This can actually happen? Your brain can turn against itself and make you appear, for all intents and purposes, as completely off your rocker? It can happen.

    While reading Susannah's story you can easily imagine how this must have happened to others. And not to the lucky ones with access to healthcare and tenacious doctors. You have to wonder how many people were shut away, given up on, relegated to the attic.

    Brain on Fire is well written, thought provoking, educational and compelling. Read it.

    Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    16 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2012

    Loved it

    Im going to be short and sweet here. I loved this book, couldnt put it down, found it fascinating, well written, and engrossing. Highly recommended.

    14 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2012

    A well written book on a very interesting premise. Insightful, s

    A well written book on a very interesting premise. Insightful, succinct and educative account of a crippling disease of the mind and the patience's odyssey back to normalcy. True to life and helpful stories like Susannah Cahalan's Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, and other Janvier Chando's educative story The Grandmothers, help give us strength and hope in life.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 22, 2012

    Twenty four year old Susannah Cahalan is a reporter in New York

    Twenty four year old Susannah Cahalan is a reporter in New York city when she becomes convinced her apartment is invested with bed bugs. Then she is sure her boyfriend is cheating on her. Soon she's having seizures and descending into full blown psychosis. It's harder to say what's scarier -- Susannah's illness or the endless parade of clueless medical professionals. MDs are quick to provide a variety of diagnoses from DTs to Schizophrenia but no one has any real answers.

    It takes a real life Dr. House to classify Susannah's illness as anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a condition that could possibly be used to explain cases of demonic possession. People with this disease go THAT crazy.

    "Brain on Fire" is a riveting account of one woman's descent into madness and her long climb out of the pit.

    Highly recommended.

    9 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 8, 2013

    Recommended for mental health/neurological field. Enlightening!

    When I purchased this book I wasn't sure what I was going to find. I grew up with schizophrenia, bipolar and depression from within my family. I encounter stereotypes of these illnesses all too often. I have to admit that early on in the book as Susannah begins to exhibit schizophrenia-like symptoms I wasn't sure if I could continue reading it as I care for a loved one who suffers from schizophrenia, and dealing with the paranoia and delusions are very painful for family members. You can only watch them suffer and there's not much you can say that will change it, although you never stop trying. ~ Once Susannah's illness begins to evolve I became very interested in how this was going to turn out. This couldn't be easy for Susannah to write, but I applaud the fact that she did. Stigmas come from ignorance. And even though her illness was only schizophrenia-like in the beginning, it reminded me of the shame our family suffered every day trying to appear as if we didn't experience such a thing. I feel I was meant to share my experiences with others who are hurting and who also struggle. Painful experiences only hurt when we hold onto them and try to cover them up. Life begins when you can break free from the stereotypes and come to accept yourself/family member and experiences for what they are/were, limitations and all. ~ Thank you Susannah for not allowing embarrassment or shame to keep you from writing your very important and educational story. ~Kris

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    Highly recommended

    This book has been a great help for me in a situation regarding a family member. My brother's behavior changed overnight and he was hospitalized with dizziness, confusion, and memory loss. Asking him how he was feeling was impossible, and the doctors were puzzled since his tests did not show any immediate problems (tumors, stroke, etc). The doctors began moving towards autoimmune encephalitis as the problem and suggested this book as an easy to read explanation of the syndrone. As I said, it has been a great help.

    I'd also recommend this book for anyone who wants to better understand how the brain works, how diagnoses are (aren't) made, and how, in some cases, encephalitis better fits the definition that we have given to autism.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 28, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    What an amazing story. This would be a great fiction story, but

    What an amazing story. This would be a great fiction story, but the fact that it’s true makes it all the more incredible.

    Susannah takes us on the journey she took as she fell ill to the mysterious illness. The book starts at the first sign that something is wrong and takes us through her time in the hospital, her diagnosis, treatment and the follow-up care and research. Even though she can’t remember anything from that time, she has pulled together doctor’s notes, videos and interviews to create a thorough timeline that makes the reader fell like they’re living through it with her.

    And it was scary. One minute she was an outgoing, confident young woman and the next she was a paranoid, delusional mess. It came on so suddenly and there were only a few signs that something was wrong before she ended up in the hospital. The tests and incorrect diagnoses she went through before they ever discovered her problem were immense and I’m impressed that her family didn’t give up on her. Their persistence is a testament of their love. Also? I think she might have the best real-life boyfriend ever.

    You know it’s going to end well (she did write the book, after all) but the writing is so immersive and intense, that you wonder how it will all work out. This could have had a very different outcome, and Susannah is very lucky that the right doctor found the right test at the right time.

    The last section of the book deals with the aftermath – how Susannah continues to be affected and the research and development that have gone into the disease since her diagnosis. That section wasn’t as intense as the earlier parts, but it was interesting. In fact, there are interesting facts and tidbits throughout the book, which were especially useful so we would know exactly how Susannah’s brain was misfiring.

    The narrator did a great job, she had the moods and affectations down perfectly. When combined with the fabulous writing, I really felt like I was there in Susannah’s head while she was going through this.

    The sum up: An intriguing story made even better by the tight writing. Susannah is a gifted writer and I’m amazed this is her first book. Don’t miss it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 28, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Gripping story highlighting the breaking boundary between psychi

    Gripping story highlighting the breaking boundary between psychiatry and physical medicine. I read this in two days. I recommend this for those who liked My Stroke of Insight or even Girl Interrupted.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 10, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    It gets old fast

    After the initial wow and OMG it becomes repetative and I got bored and didn't finish it.

    3 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2013

    Interesting for a bit but then drags

    I found the chapters leading up to and during her hospital stay to be extremely interesting. The later chapters when she details her recovery period felt redundant. Overall an OK read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2013

    It was okay

    The topic was interesting. The substance fizzled out. Good quick read and it was enlightening.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 12, 2012

    Cannot put this one down. Cruising through it in a few days and

    Cannot put this one down. Cruising through it in a few days and getting short on sleep. What a riveting story and thanks Sussanah for sharing it with us. Very intereresting condition and I just love when peopel are so open and sharing of their most personal feelings, fear and ove through adversity. Absolutely Inspiring. Please keep writing you have a gift.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2012

    Highly Recommend

    What a wonderful read! I was very intrigued when reading about the book and was not let down at all! Susannah Cahalan did a wonderful job of telling her story and keeping me interested throughout the book!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2014

    insightful

    This was a well written book. The author's experiences need to be told to psychologists so others may benefit from the knowledge gained.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 11, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    excellent

    excellent

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 9, 2014

    A very informative (albeit still entertaining) look at a rare di

    A very informative (albeit still entertaining) look at a rare disease and its devastating effects, including mental and physical problems that made the author seem for a time like she was genuinely, certifiably nuts.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2014

    Wonderfully written book, I so identified with the insanity. I c

    Wonderfully written book, I so identified with the insanity. I could not put the book down and read it in
    one day!! 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 175 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)