Review: Brain on Fire
Things were going well for twenty-four year old Susannah Cahallan – she’d graduated from college, landed a job in her field of study, and had a great boyfriend – when she suddenly started acting strange. It all began when she spotted two red dots on her arm and became convinced she’d been bitten by bedbugs, even after an exterminator found no evidence of them, and things spiraled out of control from there. Her hand went numb, she became anxious and insecure, had periods of mania, and, finally, seizures before ending in a catatonic state. After extensive testing, doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with her and began to believe she was suffering from a mental illness. Her family, boyfriend, and one neurologist believed otherwise.
Since that month is lost to her, Cahallan used interviews, medical records, videos, and her father’s journal to reconstruct it in her memoir, Brain on Fire. Wow, what a story it is!! It is fascinating and scary – I was suffering from vertigo as I read the book and became convinced it was caused by something more complicated. Even after reading this book, it’s hard to imagine the nightmare Cahallan and her loved ones lived through. The whole episode had to be extremely frustrating for them and it shows just how much the medical field has yet to learn.
I enjoyed Brain on Fire and, for the most part, found it compelling. There were a few times when I thought it got a little bogged down with medical jargon, but I think that was a necessary evil. Cahallan did a great job telling a story she can’t remember. If you enjoy memoirs, medical mysteries, or know someone suffering from something similar, you’ll want to pick this book up.