Brain On Fire: My Month of Madness (book review)

Brain On Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

I am normally an avid reader of the easy, time filling, and basic read that gives my brain something to process (other than work). I can only handle so many games of Words with Friends, puzzles, and Suduku.    But this week the book I read was a biography and I am glad I read it.

This book is a biography on the month of Susannah Cahalan’s life that she lost to a rare multistage disease. In a quick summary, she was slowly going crazy. Doctors could not figure out what was wrong with her. The disease she had was so rare that most doctors did not recognize it as an illness. Doctors were quick to assume she had psychosis and schizophrenia.  The disease she has is called anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. In the book she explains the process of the disease: slowly losing her memory, seizures, schizophrenia, catatonia, loss of bodily functions. And while all of these things are taking over her body she is holding her “real” self together, hoping one day people will see that she is still in there.  Anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis is a rare disease that happens to women. 50% begin from ovarian tumor and the other half is caused by reasons unknown. The disease is not caused by the tumor, it’s caused because the body knows that there is something in the body that doesn’t belong there – but instead of fighting the foreign object – it fights the healthy parts of the body: the brain.  And this causes all of the bad reactions listed above.

This book is a riveting story that takes you through her madness: explained not only through her blotchy memories but through the memories of those who stood by her side. The story is well written and keeps you intrigued. I read this story in a week (mind you I work full time and I have a 2 year old – so I read when I can). If I had it my way, I would have finished this book in one day. It was an easy read. Very informative. It opens your eyes to the different types of medical providers out there; ones who don’t care to investigate and mark you off their daily “to-do list” and ones who stand by your side through the process. And having been to providers like that (on both sides), so it made it easier to understand the frustration with the delay of care that she experienced.  I would definitely recommend this book to everyone. I feel that I am smarter for reading this book. It informed me of things to watch out for, since I am a woman with a history of ovarian teratomas (tumors).  It opened my eyes to the possibilities of a bigger picture when concerning illness. And it also informs the reader that the medical field is forever changing and expanding. All illnesses and diseases are continuously being studied and with the studies they are able to pinpoint diagnoses and points of origins. Medical professionals are learning and expanding their knowledge daily and for that I tip my hat. And my big thanks are to the medical providers that investigate and stand by the sides of their patients through the hard times. This was a great book and I would recommend you all read it.

 Please note: this post was moved from my Baking and Reading Blog. This was originally written January 15, 2013.

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