Book Club: Brain on Fire

Yes, I know, it hasn't been nearly a month since I posted the previous book club review.  The problem is that this month's read was so good I finished it in two sittings.  If you haven't picked up a copy of Brain on Fire My Month of Madness yet, I suggest you do so immediately.

As a nurse practitioner, I enjoy reading medical themed novels, but often find them less exciting than my leisure reads.  They appeal to my professional side and offer a healthcare perspective but perhaps they are a bit too serious, or jaded, or whatever for my taste.  Or, maybe they are excellent reads but they err so much on the side of fiction they don't offer any professional perspective at all.  This has been my experience, that is until I read Brain on Fire last week...and couldn't put it down.

In 2009, Susannah Cahalan noticed she didn't feel quite right.  A 20-something reporter for the New York Post, she began to have episodes at work where she just didn't feel quite right.  Outbursts of tears and emotion followed by distracted forgetfulness were not her norm.  But, Susannah chalked these up to stress and continued on unil her friends and family began to take notice as well.

Alarmed by her recent changes in behavior, Susannah's family brought her to New York's famed Langone Medical Center for treatment promising themselves that whatever happened they would not place her in a psychiatric facility.  On the neurology floor, a team of specialists painstakingly ruled out condition after condition to diagnose the cause of Susannah's psychosis.

Susannah writes Brain on Fire My Month of Madness from her own perspective beginning with waking up restrained in a hospital bed monitored by a security guard unable to move or speak.  By watching hospital video and reading her parent's journals, Susannah pieces together the details of a month she cannot remember.  She wavers from psychosis to catatonia before doctors finally diagnose her condition- a rare autoimmune disorder where her body attacks her brain. 

This riveting read gives unprecedented insight into the mind of a patient and family experiencing the unspeakable fear and frustration of a seemingly unattainable diagnosis.  It forces medical providers to examen the all to common practice of writing off individuals as psychiatric cases rather than searching for another cause.  How many of our institutionalized patients' symptoms are in reality a result of other conditions?

Brain on Fire is a must-read for nurse practitioners and medical professionals of all kinds.