The New Yorker was 24 when she fell seriously ill with a mystery condition. She was lucky: a neurologist recognized the symptoms and she recovered. Here she tells how she pieced together her terrifying ordeal to write a remarkable memoir.
Susannah Cahalan was 24 years old and living the kind of New York life that young women who have watched too much Sex and the City dream about.
She had the go-getting job as a news reporter on the city’s tabloid New York Post. She had the musician boyfriend, the gadabout social life, even the cubbyhole apartment in a desirable part of town.
Then suddenly, she began experiencing changes in her behavior and emotions before having her first seizure.
Her behavior became so strange that she had to be hospitalized.
Then she had hallucinations, more seizures, personality disorder, psychosis and, finally, catatonia.
She began punching and kicking the nurses. She had seizures. She believed the hospital staff was transforming into other people to play tricks on her.
Doctors were led to think that she was slowly losing her sanity so they said that her “brain was on fire.”
She was a medical mystery.
For a whole month, she was a medical mystery. The first neurologist she saw told her there was nothing wrong with her. A psychiatrist said it was bipolar disorder and prescribed medication.
It took one very smart doctor, Dr. Souhel Najjar, to really get to the bottom of this. He thought that is too much cruel for 24-year old to go to a psychiatric institution so he tried with one more test.
It was very simple test. He told Susannah to draw a clock.
When Susannah drew the clock, all of the numbers were on one side, which meant that only one side of her brain was being affected. This proved that the issue wasn’t psychological, it was neurological, which meant it was a physical ailment that could be treated.
Susannah had an autoimmune disease called anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. This caused antibodies to attack the brain, causing it to become swollen. She could have died if this was discovered sometime later.
Thankfully, Dr. Najjar was able to treat disease, and she made a full recovery. She also wrote a book called “Brain on fire” to share her dreadful experience!
Here’s what Susannah had to say about her experience…