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“Brain on Fire – My Month of Madness” by Susannah Cahalan

3.4 out of 5 stars.

A true story written by the woman who lived it. Unfortunately, she didn’t necessarily remember it all on her own.

Susannah Cahalan was a 24 year that seemed like most of us; tough job in the city working at the New York Post, fresh new relationship that made her second guessing herself at all times, and a lifestyle that seemed like it was constantly on overdrive. You can imagine that when Cahalan passed out one day with flu-like symptoms everyone just assumed it was a mental breakdown from stress.

The fainting was just the beginning. Next comes thrashing seizure, anxiety, and slurred words. Finally, enough is enough and Susannah checks herself into the hospital to see what is going on. From there, we follow her through seven months of hospital visits, shockwaves to the brain, and Cahalan becoming a science experiment to a disease that is essentially unheard of.

Cahalan wasn’t even sure if she could call this book a memoir because she didn’t remember half of the story herself. She had to base it on the doctor’s diary entries while observing her and the 24/7 surveillance tapes that monitored her hospital room. There was certainly many questions up in the air but the bottom line from every doctor (a total of seven were seen) is that her body was eating her brain. To make matters worse, there was a ticking time clock in the background of everyone’s mind because they knew Susannah was only getting worse without treatment.

The book starts and ends with this quote by Fredrich Nietzche, “The existence of forgetting has never been proved: we only know that some things do not come to our mind when we want them to.”

I believe Nietzche’s words rang true to Susannah’s story because to the outside world she looked like she was a goner and would never return to her old lifestyle of normalcy.  The spark in her that was once there seemed to have fizzled out to dead eyes. However, to close family and friends, the faith was still there that Susannah’s soul remained hidden in that dead body. With the help of medication, Susannah dug deep for almost a year to get that spark back.

I do not want to give away the ending of this book because it is powerful. I will just leave you with the fact this is a must read for anyone who is fascinated by science, people’s strengths to overcome what seems like the impossible, and the power of knowledge.

Let me know what you think! I would say I am dying to know but that seems inappropriate after a book like this.


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