Review: Brian on Fire - My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Publication: 11/13/2012 by Free Press
Pages: 261 Pages
Source: Library Audiobook
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
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Goodreads Summary: 
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, Susannah Cahalan woke up in a strange hospital room, strapped to her bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. Her medical records—from a month-long hospital stay of which she had no memory—showed psychosis, violence, and dangerous instability. Yet, only weeks earlier she had been a healthy, ambitious twenty-four year old, six months into her first serious relationship and a sparkling career as a cub reporter. 

Susannah’s astonishing memoir chronicles the swift path of her illness and the lucky, last-minute intervention led by one of the few doctors capable of saving her life. As weeks ticked by and Susannah moved inexplicably from violence to catatonia, $1 million worth of blood tests and brain scans revealed nothing. The exhausted doctors were ready to commit her to the psychiatric ward, in effect condemning her to a lifetime of institutions, or death, until Dr. Souhel Najjar—nicknamed Dr. House—joined her team. He asked Susannah to draw one simple sketch, which became key to diagnosing her with a newly discovered autoimmune disease in which her body was attacking her brain, an illness now thought to be the cause of “demonic possessions” throughout history. 

With sharp reporting drawn from hospital records, scientific research, and interviews with doctors and family, Brain on Fire is a crackling mystery and an unflinching, gripping personal story that marks the debut of an extraordinary writer.

My Thoughts:
I have had this book on my Goodreads TBR list for years. I am a Biology and Psychology student so this book was right up my alley. It's a story that really makes you think about your health and how to approach it. Not every medical case is cut and dry so it's interesting to see the approach they took with Susannah. It really makes you want to take your health into your own hands and not take the first possible diagnosis as truth. Sometimes you need a second opinion and sometimes you need to explore other options. 

Susannah's story is scary. It's so easy to put yourself in her shoes and think "what if this happened to me?". Luckily for her, she had a good support and eventually a doctor who would give her personalized care to determine her diagnosis. I found this story to be very well written and it felt like you were reading a fictional novel instead of a memoir. If you are into medical mysteries or mental illness, I suggest you check this one out. It's a very accessible nonfiction and I think everyone could take something away from it.

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