Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

3.  A Book Recommended by a Friend

On a recent trip to the Southwest with some writer friends, I got to know a lovely woman who had been undergoing some brain scans and doctor visits trying to pin down the source of some vision and balance and headache problems she's been having.  We began talking brains and neurologists which I am  familiar with because of our son's journey into the same world because of his epilepsy.

She was reading this book at the time and lent it to me last week when she finished. A stunning memoir by a young woman who had been through, quite literally, a month of madness. Sometimes I think it is really lucky when bad things happen to journalists and good storytellers so we can know some of these traumas with such detail and intimacy.

Brain on Fire read quickly and luckily has a happy ending. Although the actual disease is quite different from epilepsy--many of the treatments and exams are identical to what I have watched my son undergo.  What was especially poignant were some of her realizations at the end.  She met people with same disease struggling to understand what happened to them and she could relate. She met her tribe. Her case itself--being publicized--has allowed for more people to be diagnosed.   (This rare autoimmune disease mimics schizophrenia so many people with it are in mental hospitals.) People told her stories of carrying her first article on the topic into emergency rooms--insisting their loved one had this very problem and it was often the correct diagnosis.  The gifts she got when it was over, in spite of the horror she went through, somehow made it worth if for her.

What is interesting about this kind of memoir is that most of it is pure journalism. Susannah remembered nothing of her month of madness. She recreated most of the story from her parents' journals and her doctors notes and research into the medical field. All brilliantly woven together and told from a journalists perspective.

This was a fabulous book.  Especially interesting if you have dealt with neurologists and doctors and medical madness.

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