5. Susannah Cahalan – Brain on Fire

Susannah Cahalan - Brain On Fire (photo taken by me)
Susannah Cahalan – Brain On Fire (photo taken by me)

Last night, I finished Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan. I read this book over the past few snowy days and read practically all day yesterday to finish it up.

Brain on Fire is a memoir written by Cahalan, who was a 24-year-old journalist at the New York Post when she suddenly started experiencing numbness, hallucinations, and seizures, among other things. Cahalan went into a psychotic and then catatonic state and spent a month living in a hospital while confusing her nurses and doctors.

Throughout her memoir, Cahalan tells the complete story of her illness – as complete as it can be, that is. Cahalan herself doesn’t remember most of her month-long hospital stay, and therefore used her reporter skills to tell the story. She watched videos of herself taken by the security cameras in her room, read through diaries kept by herself and her parents, interviewed people involved and dissected her medical records in order to portray her “month of madness”.

I LOVED this book. Absolutely loved it. I’ve recommended it to practically everyone I’ve spoken to this past week and I bring it up every chance I get. I find it fascinating (yet terrifying) that a young woman in her early twenties can go from perfectly healthy to barely being able to communicate her thoughts in such a short period of time, and then can recover and be able to write a book about it.

One thing I really liked about this book was the short chapters it had. Most chapters were around 5 pages long, which I like because it gives you the ability to stop and put the book down at almost any time without having to stop reading in the middle of something important. I like books that are broken up for easy reading, which is exactly what Cahalan has done here. I also think it’s really nice to have a first person account of a medical problem as opposed to reading it from an outsider’s perspective, because I think it makes it much more personal.

At times, I felt like the writing became a little wordy when she was describing medical terms, although I know that those details were entirely necessary for the story. It’s kind of similar to how I felt while reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I think most people have had to read for school at one point or another. That book also gets a little overwhelming with medical terms at times which can make it a little harder to follow, but those facts are important and need to be included. In Brain on Fire, I think Cahalan does her best to make everything as easy to understand as possible, but there are just some facts that cannot be left out. She makes the medical jargon as easy to follow as possible.

I would definitely recommend this book to pretty much anybody. It’s an incredibly interesting story and I can’t get over how crazy her story is. This book gives readers a chance to hear from someone firsthand what it is like to go through an ordeal like this, and it really shines some light on important issues in the medical field. I think this book would be a particularly good read for someone who is interested in science or specifically the brain, because it really shows what power the brain has over the entire body, and some of the science aspects of the book are really, really interesting.

I’ve mentioned that I have been recommending this book to almost everyone I encounter, and I envision myself continuing to do so in the future, because this really was an excellent read and I don’t see the story leaving my mind any time soon. I honestly cannot say enough good things about this book. If you haven’t already, you should at least look into reading it.


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