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
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. Download and start listening now!