Monday, November 26, 2012

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

This morning I woke up with some kind of stomach bug.  I felt miserable and had to cancel the plans I had made for the day to stay in bed where I watched movies as I dozed in and out.  However I was blessed.  Why, you may wonder?  Because I knew that with a little rest, ginger ale, and TLC from my cat and my parents that I would be OK shortly.  Unfortunately there are many sick people out there with serious illnesses, some of them so rare that treatments or diagnoses may not be known.

Susannah Cahalan was one of these people.  In 2009 she was in her 20's and working for the New York Post when she began to feel not quite herself.  Her vague symptoms soon grew worse and worse as she began to have panic attacks, irrational fits, episodes of extreme paranoia, and ultimately seizures.  After one bad seizure she awoke in a New York City hospital and discovered that she had been there for one month with no recollection of her stay there or the seemingly manic and crazed behavior that kept here there.  The doctors tested her for a variety of ailments and diseases but were unable to find a diagnosis.  Her parents feared that their daughter may never recover and would spend the rest of her days in mental hospital.  Fortunately, a doctor they dubbed, "Dr. House," after the brilliant TV doctor stepped in at just the right moment.  Susannah was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease.  Susannah's memoir "Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness" describes her quest to discover what happened during her lost month and her grueling recovery process.

This was a fascinating and frightening read.  The memoir explains that the doctor's who treated Susannah believe that her condition may be the correct diagnosis for some individuals who are currently diagnosed with schizophrenia or other mental illnesses.  It's tragic to think how many people may be hospitalized and treated for an incorrect diagnosis.  When Susannah was diagnosed, she was only the 217th person to receive the diagnosis, today there are thousands of people who have received this diagnosis.  It makes you wonder how many other diseases and ailments there are that haven't been discovered or labeled yet. 

I highly recommend this memoir to everyone that loves not just medical stories but true stories of average people with the courage and determination to fight for their life over insurmountable odds.

For more information on Susannah or where to purchase her book, please visit your local bookstores and check out her website.

I would also like to thank the publisher, Free Press, for providing me with a review copy of the book in exchange for a free, honest review.

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