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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness


Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness Cover

ISBN13: 9781451621372
ISBN10: 145162137x
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Brain on Fire andlt;link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="../styles/9781451621396.css"andgt; andlt;h3 andgt;andlt;a id="ch01"andgt;andlt;/aandgt;andlt;a id="page_3"andgt;andlt;/aandgt;CHAPTER 1andlt;/h3andgt; andlt;h3 andgt;BEDBUG BLUESandlt;/h3andgt; andlt;BRandgt;Maybe it all began with a bug bite, from a bedbug that didnand#8217;t exist.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;One morning, Iand#8217;d woken up to find two red dots on the main purplish-blue vein running down my left arm. It was early 2009, and New York City was awash in bedbug scares: they infested offices, clothing stores, movie theaters, and park benches. Though I wasnand#8217;t naturally a worrier, my dreams had been occupied for two nights straight by finger-long bedbugs. It was a reasonable concern, though after carefully scouring the apartment, I couldnand#8217;t find a single bug or any evidence of their presence. Except those two bites. I even called in an exterminator to check out my apartment, an overworked Hispanic man who combed the whole place, lifting up my sofa bed and shining a flashlight into places I had never before thought to clean. He proclaimed my studio bug free. That seemed unlikely, so I asked for a follow-up appointment for him to spray. To his credit, he urged me to wait before shelling out an astronomical sum to do battle against what he seemed to think was an imaginary infestation. But I pressed him to do it, convinced that my apartment, my bed, my body had been overrun by bugs. He agreed to return and exterminate.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Concerned as I was, I tried to conceal my growing unease from my coworkers. Understandably, no one wanted to be associated with a person with a bedbug problem. So at work the following day, I walked as nonchalantly as possible through the newsroom of the New York Post to my cubicle. I was careful to conceal my bites and tried to appear casual, normal. Not that and#8220;normaland#8221; means a lot at the Post.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;a id="page_4"andgt;andlt;/aandgt;Though itand#8217;s notoriously obsessed with whatand#8217;s new, the Post is nearly as old as the nation itself. Established by Alexander Hamilton in 1801, it is the longest continually run newspaper in the country. In its first century alone, the paper crusaded for the abolition movement and helped promote the creation of Central Park. Today the newsroom itself is cavernous yet airless, filled with rows of open cubicles and a glut of filing cabinets packed with decades of unused, forgotten documents. The walls are freckled with clocks that donand#8217;t run, dead flowers hung upside down to dry, a picture of a monkey riding a border collie, and a big foam Six Flags finger, all memorabilia from reportersand#8217; assignments. The PCs are ancient, the copy machines the size of small ponies. A small utility closet that once served as a smoking room now holds supplies, and is marked by a weathered sign warning that the smoking room no longer exists, as if someone might accidentally wander in for a cigarette among the monitors and video equipment. This has been my eccentric little world for the past seven years, since I started here as a seventeen-year-old intern.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Especially around deadline, the room buzzes with activityand#8212;keyboards clacking, editors yelling, reporters cacklingand#8212;the perfect stereotype of a tabloid newsroom.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Whereand#8217;s the fucking picture to go with this caption?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;How is it that he didnand#8217;t know she was a prostitute?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;What color were the socks of the guy who jumped off the bridge?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Itand#8217;s like a bar without alcohol, filled with adrenaline-soaked news junkies. The cast of characters here is unique to the Post: the brightest headline writers in the business, the hardened newshounds hunting after exclusives, and type-A workaholics who possess the chameleon ability to either befriend or antagonize almost anyone. Still, on most days, the newsroom is subdued, as everyone silently combs through court documents, interviews sources, or reads newspapers. Often, like today, the newsroom is as quiet as a morgue.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Heading toward my desk to start the day, I wove through the rows of cubicles marked by green Manhattan street signs: Liberty andlt;a id="page_5"andgt;andlt;/aandgt;Street, Nassau Street, Pine Street, and William Street, throwbacks to a time when the Post was actually flanked by those downtown streets in its previous home at the South Street Seaport. My desk is at Pine Street. Amid the silence, I slid into my seat beside Angela, my closest friend at the paper, and gave her a tense smile. Trying not to let my question echo too loudly across the noiseless room, I asked, and#8220;You know anything about bedbug bites?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;I often joked that if I ever had a daughter, Iand#8217;d want her to be like Angela. In many ways, she is my newsroom hero. When I first met her, three years before, she was a soft-spoken, shy young woman from Queens, only a few years older than me. She had arrived at the Post from a small weekly paper and since then had matured under the pressure of a big-city tabloid into one of the Postand#8217;s most talented reporters, churning out reams of our best stories. Most late Friday nights, youand#8217;d find Angela writing four stories on split screens simultaneously. I couldnand#8217;t help but look up to her. Now I really needed her advice.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Hearing that dreaded word, bedbugs, Angela scooted her chair away from mine. and#8220;Donand#8217;t tell me you have them,and#8221; she said with an impish smile. I started to show her my arm, but before I could get into my tale of woe, my phone rang.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;You ready?and#8221; It was the new Sunday editor, Steve. He was just barely in his midthirties, yet he had already been named head editor of the Sunday paper, the section I worked for, and despite his friendliness, he intimidated me. Every Tuesday, each reporter had a pitch meeting to showcase some of his or her ideas for that Sundayand#8217;s paper. At the sound of his voice, I realized with panic that I was completely unprepared for this weekand#8217;s meeting. Usually I had at least three coherent ideas to pitch; they werenand#8217;t always great, but I always had something. Now I had nothing, not even enough to bluff my way through the next five minutes. How had I let that happen? This meeting was impossible to forget, a weekly ritual that we all fastidiously prepared for, even during days off.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Bedbugs forgotten, I widened my eyes at Angela as I stood back up, gamely hoping it all would work out once I got to Steveand#8217;s office.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;a id="page_6"andgt;andlt;/aandgt;Nervously, I walked back down and#8220;Pine Streetand#8221; and into Steveand#8217;s office. I sat down next to Paul, the Sunday news editor and close friend who had mentored me since I was a sophomore in college, giving him a nod but avoiding direct eye contact. I readjusted my scratched-up wide-framed Annie Hall glasses, which a publicist friend once described as my own form of birth control because and#8220;no one will sleep with you with those on.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;We sat there in silence for a moment, as I tried to let myself be comforted by Pauland#8217;s familiar, larger-than-life presence. With his shock of prematurely white hair and his propensity to toss the word fuck around like a preposition, he is the essence of a throwback newsman and a brilliant editor.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;He had given me a shot as a reporter during the summer of my sophomore year of college after a family friend introduced us. After a few years in which I worked as a runner, covering breaking news and feeding information to another reporter to write the piece, Paul offered me my first big assignment: an article on the debauchery at a New York University fraternity house. When I returned with a story and pictures of me playing beer pong, he was impressed with my chutzpah; even though the exposand#233; never ran, he assigned me more stories until I had been hired on full time in 2008. Now, as I sat in Steveand#8217;s office wholly unprepared, I couldnand#8217;t help but feel like a work in progress, not worthy of Pauland#8217;s faith and respect.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;The silence deepened until I looked up. Steve and Paul were staring at me expectantly, so I just started talking, hoping something would come. and#8220;I saw this story on a blogand#160;.and#160;.and#160;.and#160;,and#8221; I said, desperately plucking up wisps of half-formed ideas.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Thatand#8217;s really just not good enough,and#8221; Steve interrupted. and#8220;You need to be bringing in better stuff than this. Okay? Please donand#8217;t come in with nothing again.and#8221; Paul nodded, his face blazing red. For the first time since Iand#8217;d started working on my high school newspaper, journalism disagreed with me. I left the meeting furious at myself and bewildered by my own ineptitude.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;You okay?and#8221; Angela asked as I returned to my desk.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Yeah, you know, Iand#8217;m just bad at my job. No big deal,and#8221; I joked grimly.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;a id="page_7"andgt;andlt;/aandgt;She laughed, revealing a few charmingly crooked incisor teeth. and#8220;Oh, come on, Susannah. What happened? Donand#8217;t take it seriously. Youand#8217;re a pro.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Thanks, Ang,and#8221; I said, sipping my lukewarm coffee. and#8220;Things just arenand#8217;t going my way.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;I brooded over the dayand#8217;s disasters that evening as I walked west from the News Corp. building on Sixth Avenue, through the tourist clusterfuck that is Times Square, toward my apartment in Helland#8217;s Kitchen. As if purposely living the clichand#233; of a New York writer, I rented a cramped one-room studio, where I slept on a pullout sofa. The apartment, eerily quiet, overlooked the courtyard of several tenements, and I often awoke not to police sirens and grumbling garbage trucks but to the sound of a neighbor playing the accordion on his balcony.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Still obsessed with my bites, despite the exterminatorand#8217;s assurance that I had nothing to worry about, I prepared for him to spray the place and spent that night discarding things that could be harboring bedbugs. Into the garbage went my beloved Post clips, hundreds of articles reminding me of how bizarre my job is: the victims and suspects, dangerous slums, prisons and hospitals, twelve-hour shifts spent shivering inside photographersand#8217; cars waiting to photographand#8212;or and#8220;popand#8221;and#8212;celebrities. I had always loved every minute of it. So why was I suddenly so terrible at it?andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;As I shoved these treasures into the trash bags, I paused on a few headlines, among them the biggest story of my career to date: the time I managed to land an exclusive jailhouse interview with child kidnapper Michael Devlin. The national media were hot on the story, and I was only a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, yet Devlin spoke to me twice. But the story didnand#8217;t end there. His lawyers went nuts after the article ran, launching a smear campaign against the Post and calling for a judicial gag order, while the local and national media began debating my methods on live TV and questioning the ethics of jailhouse interviews and tabloids in general. Paul fielded several tearful phone calls from me during that time, which bound us together, and in the end, both the paper and my editors stood by me. Though the andlt;a id="page_8"andgt;andlt;/aandgt;experience had rattled me, it also whetted my appetite, and from then on, I became the resident and#8220;jailhouser.and#8221; Devlin was eventually sentenced to three consecutive lifetimes in prison.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Then there was the butt implant story, and#8220;Rear and Present Danger,and#8221; a headline that still makes me laugh. I had to go undercover as a stripper looking for cheap butt enhancements from a woman who was illegally dispensing them out of a midtown hotel room. As I stood there with my pants around my ankles, I tried not to be insulted when she announced that she would need and#8220;a thousand dollars per cheek,and#8221; twice the amount she charged the woman who had come forward to the Post.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Journalism was thrilling; I had always loved living a reality that was more fabulist than fiction, though little did I know that my life was about to become so bizarre as to be worthy of coverage in my own beloved tabloid.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Even though the memory made me smile, I added this clip to the growing trash pileand#8212;and#8220;where it belongs,and#8221; I scoffed, despite the fact that those crazy stories had meant the world to me. Though it felt necessary at the moment, this callous throwing away of yearsand#8217; worth of work was completely out of character for me. I was a nostalgic pack rat, who held on to poems that I had written in fourth grade and twenty-some-odd diaries that dated back to junior high. Though there didnand#8217;t seem to be much of a connection among my bedbug scare, my forgetfulness at work, and my sudden instinct to purge my files, what I didnand#8217;t know then is that bug obsession can be a sign of psychosis. Itand#8217;s a little-known problem, since andlt;a id="ch01link1"andgt;andlt;/aandgt;those suffering from parasitosis, or Ekbom syndrome, as itand#8217;s called, are most likely to consult exterminators or dermatologists for their imaginary infestations instead of mental health professionals, and as a result they frequently go undiagnosed. My problem, it turns out, was far vaster than an itchy forearm and a forgotten meeting.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;After hours of packing everything away to ensure a bedbug-free zone, I still didnand#8217;t feel any better. As I knelt by the black garbage bags, I was hit with a terrible ache in the pit of my stomachand#8212;that kind of free-floating dread that accompanies heartbreak andlt;a id="page_9"andgt;andlt;/aandgt;or death. When I got to my feet, a sharp pain lanced my mind, like a white-hot flash of a migraine, though I had never suffered from one before. As I stumbled to the bathroom, my legs and body just wouldnand#8217;t react, and I felt as if I were slogging through quicksand. I must be getting the flu, I thought.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;img src="../images/common.jpg" width="50" height="8" alt="break"andgt;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;This might not have been the flu, though, the same way there may have been no bedbugs. But there likely was a pathogen of some sort that had invaded my body, a little germ that set everything in motion. Maybe it came from that businessman who had sneezed on me in the subway a few days before, andlt;a id="ch01link2"andgt;andlt;/aandgt;releasing millions of virus particles onto the rest of us in that subway car? Or maybe it was in something I ate or something that slipped inside me through a tiny wound on my skin, maybe through one of those mysterious bug bites?andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;There my mind goes again.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;The doctors donand#8217;t actually know how it began for me. Whatand#8217;s clear is that if that man had sneezed on you, youand#8217;d most likely just get a cold. For me, it flipped my universe upside down and very nearly sent me to an asylum for life.

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Lumpy, December 8, 2012 (view all comments by Lumpy)
I was spellbound by this book. I'm very interested in all the new brain research going on now, but this was not just scientific research. It was about a real person whose body attacked her brain, and all she went through in her month-long hospital stay before doctors came up with an answer and a treatment plan. Amazing story!
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Product Details

My Month of Madness
Cahalan, Susannah
Free Press
Biography - General
Susannah Cahalan, Brain on Fire, Auto-immune disorder, medical mystery, non-fiction, memoir, diagnosis, memory, bestseller, award-winning, psychosis, madness, anti-nmda-receptor encephalitis
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
23 bandamp;w illus t-o
9 x 6 in

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Health and Self-Help » Psychology » Mind and Consciousness
Health and Self-Help » Self-Help » Memoirs

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness Used Hardcover
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Product details 288 pages Free Press - English 9781451621372 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In 2009, Cahalan was in a serious relationship and her career as a reporter at the New York Post was taking off. But suddenly, as she tells it in this engaging memoir, she began suffering from a bizarre amalgam of debilitating symptoms including memory loss, paranoia, and severe psychosis that left her in a catatonic state that moved her close to death. Physicians remained baffled until one extraordinary doctor determined that Cahalan was 'in the grip of some kind of autoimmune disease.' Released from the hospital after 28 days, she had no memory of her stay there. DVDs recorded in the hospital were the only link she had to her startling condition. 'Without this electronic evidence, I could never have imagined myself capable of such madness and misery,' she writes. Focusing her journalistic toolbox on her story, Cahalan untangles the medical mystery surrounding her condition. She is dogged by one question: 'How many other people throughout history suffered from my disease and others like it but went untreated? The question is made more pressing by the knowledge that even though the disease was discovered in 2007, some doctors I spoke to believe that it's been around at least as long as humanity has.' A fast-paced and well-researched trek through a medical mystery to a hard-won recovery." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , "The bizarre and confounding illness that beset the 24-year-old New York Post reporter in early 2009 so ravaged her mentally and physically that she became unrecognizable to coworkers, family, friends, and — most devastatingly — herself....She dedicates this miracle of a book to 'those without a diagnosis'....[An] unforgettable memoir."
"Review" by , "Swift and haunting."
"Review" by , "This fascinating memoir by a young New York Post reporter...describes how she crossed the line between sanity and insanity...Cahalan expertly weaves together her own story and relevant scientific information...compelling."
"Review" by , "For the neurologist, I highly recommend this book on several grounds....First, it is a well-told story, worth reading for the suspense and the dramatic cadence of events....Second, it is a superb case study of a rare neurologic diagnosis; even experienced neurologists will find much to learn in it....Third, and most important, it gives the neurologist insight into how a patient and her family experienced a complex illness, including the terrifying symptoms, the difficult pace of medical diagnosis, and the slow recovery. This story clearly contains lessons for all of us."
"Review" by , "Focusing her journalistic toolbox on her story, Cahalan untangles the medical mystery surrounding her condition....A fast-paced and well-researched trek through a medical mystery to a hard-won recovery."
"Review" by , "Brain on Fire is a stunningly brave book....[It] comes from a place of intense pain and unthinkable isolation, but finds redemption in Cahalan's unflagging, defiant toughness. It's an unexpected gift of a book from one of America's most courageous young journalists."
"Synopsis" by , A gripping memoir and medical suspense story about a young New York Post reporter’s struggle with a rare and terrifying disease, opening a new window into the fascinating world of brain science.

One day, Susannah Cahalan woke up in a strange hospital room, strapped to her bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. Her medical records — from a month-long hospital stay of which she had no memory — showed psychosis, violence, and dangerous instability. Yet, only weeks earlier she had been a healthy, ambitious twenty-four year old, six months into her first serious relationship and a sparkling career as a cub reporter.

Susannah’s astonishing memoir chronicles the swift path of her illness and the lucky, last-minute intervention led by one of the few doctors capable of saving her life. As weeks ticked by and Susannah moved inexplicably from violence to catatonia, $1 million worth of blood tests and brain scans revealed nothing. The exhausted doctors were ready to commit her to the psychiatric ward, in effect condemning her to a lifetime of institutions, or death, until Dr. Souhel Najjar — nicknamed Dr. House — joined her team. He asked Susannah to draw one simple sketch, which became key to diagnosing her with a newly discovered autoimmune disease in which her body was attacking her brain, an illness now thought to be the cause of “demonic possessions” throughout history.

With sharp reporting drawn from hospital records, scientific research, and interviews with doctors and family, Brain on Fire is a crackling mystery and an unflinching, gripping personal story that marks the debut of an extraordinary writer.

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