Paperback review: Brain on fire, By Susannah Cahalan


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The Independent Culture

Susannah Cahalan was a New York Post journalist – young, successful, with a bright future.

One day she found two red dots on her arm – bedbug bites? She began to get headaches, then paranoid delusions, followed by seizures, and plunged into a six-month nightmare where she forgot how to talk, walk and eat. The right hemisphere of her brain had become inflamed; as her neurologist put it, her brain was on fire. The strangest thing is that Cahalan remembers nothing – her account comes from medical reports, film footage of herself in hospital, testimony of friends and family, and her own fractured diary entries. This reads like a medical whodunnit, as doctors gradually diagnose her condition. The story has a happy end, but it's a scary reminder of how delicately balanced sanity and selfhood are.