Thursday Book Feature: Brain on Fire

<strong>Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness</strong>
by Susannah Cahalan
Copyright 2012.

And I thought the dream I had a few weeks ago in which I woke up in a hospital, not sure how I got there, was bazaar. This takes the cake, and it wasn’t a dream. In the spring of 2009, Susannah Cahalan woke up and found herself strapped to a hospital bed, not remembering how she got there. When she panicked, a figure in purple with a foreign accent told her to calm down. Thus begins her memoir about her experience with a rare autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the brain.

The author explains how she first experienced symptoms while she was working as a journalist for the New York Post. It started as an obsession with bed bugs in her apartment. She then experienced numbness and other flu-like symptoms and gradually became forgetful, paranoid, and dilusional. Her gynecologist referred her to a neurologist who said these symptoms were caused by stress and too much drinking. Then, she had her first seizure, and things went downhill from there. Her parents were finally able to get her admitted to New York University Hospital’s epilepsy unit.

Since she doesn’t remember much of what happened after that, most of her information was gleamed from interviews with family and friends, her father’s journal, and footage from EKG video. She describes the battery of tests she endured and how she was visited by neurologists, psychologists, and other professionals who were stumped by her condition. She reverted from being paranoid with dilusions to a catatonic state where she could barely speak, let alone care for herself. Her doctors were about to send her to the psychiatric unit when a new neurologist joined the team. After performing a brain biopsy, running more tests, and conferring with other doctors across the country, he finally diagnosed her with anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune incephalitis. This neurologist pointed out to her parents that her brain was on fire, hence the title.

After being given medication to combat this disorder, she was discharged. She then describes the long, arduous process of recovery. Although she was able to move and care for herself by this time, her speech and thought processes were slow. She talks about how her parents, boyfriend, and other relatives and friends supported her during her stay in the hospital and recovery. After six months, she returned to her newspaper job, and she describes how she completed her first major assignment, an article about anti NMDA inhibitor autoimmune incephalitis and her experience with it. She provides more information about this disorder.

This book was an Audible daily deal, and I’m glad I picked it up. The narrator does an excellent job portraying the author’s first-person account of her story. I love this book’s beginning and ending in which the author describes waking up in the hospital’s epilepsy unit, then returning years later after her recovery for a visit and her encounter with a nurse who cared for her during that time.

I would like to have known more about Susannah Cahalan after she returned to work and successfully published her first major article. She mentions moving in with her boyfriend, but did she eventually marry him and start a family, perhaps balancing that with her career?

According to the author, this rare disorder strikes women of child-bearing age and is often mistaken for psychosis. At the time this book was written, a percentage of women afflicted with anti-NMDA inhibitor encephalitis ended up in psychiatric hospitals where they eventually died. So if you’re a young woman, I encourage you to read this book, and if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned, consult a neurologist before you see a psychiatrist.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
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Thursday Book Feature: The Sleep Revolution

The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time
By Arianna Huffington
Copyright 2016.

The founder of The Huffington Post shares her insights on sleep. Using scientific evidence and other sources, she describes what she calls a sleep crisis, in which many Americans aren’t getting enough sleep. She explains how people in the trucking and medical industry and even politicians can be adversely affected by sleep deprivation. She discusses the correlation between not getting enough sleep and diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other disorders.

She talks about how even Benjamin Franklin didn’t get enough sleep and the attitude that sleep wasn’t important. She explains why sleeping pills and caffeine are NOT the solution to the problem of sleep deprivation and, in some cases, can exacerbate it. She discusses sleep disorders and how they can be treated.

She then outlines what we can and shouldn’t do in order to get a good night’s sleep. She describes how hospitals, colleges, and hotels are helping people sleep better, also talking about what is being done in the workplace to promote good sleep habits among employees. The book includes a sleep questionnaire, suggested meditation techniques, information about hotels around the world that will ensure you get a good night’s sleep, and matrress recommendations.

I found many of the facts in this book fascinating. For example, did you know that the Beatles song “Let It Be” was inspired by a dream Paul McCartney had in which his mother, Mary, told him everything would work out? Here I thought he was referring to the Virgin Mary. Who knew?

I’d never describe myself as sleep-deprived, although I’ve had occasional trouble falling asleep and staying that way. Nevertheless, I decided to take the sleep questionnaire at the end of the book. I discovered, to my amazement, that my sleep was in good shape. I encourage everyone to read this book and spread the word about the importance of getting a good night’s sleep.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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Forbidden Underwear

In the winter of 1975 at the age of thirteen, I was hospitalized with pneumonia. Because I was so dehydrated, it was necessary to do a cut-down in my ankle in order to inject fluids and medicine. As a result, I couldn’t wear underwear.

One day, not realizing this, perhaps in an attempt to cheer me up, Mother bought me a pair of purple underwear from Gibson’s, a local department store. Because of my limited vision, I really appreciated scents, and I loved the smell of the store and its products. I breathed in the underwear’s aroma and longed to be in that store instead of in the hospital room with its antiseptic odors.

I also wanted to wear that pair of underwear. An aide took pity on me. She devised what she thought was an ingenious plan. She threaded the garment through the IV tubing and was able to slip my feet in the appropriate holes and pull up the underwear. I loved the feel of the cotton against my skin, and with my private parts no longer exposed to the elements, I was more comfortable.

Late that night, I awoke to find two nurses fussing with my IV tubing. Apparently, the underwear was clogging it, and the medicine wasn’t getting through. One nurse commented that whoever did this should have their head examined. I wasn’t about to say who did it. Needless to say, the underwear came off.

I never saw it again. It probably went the way of many such garments belonging to patients. Now, I always wear underwear unless I’m in the shower or working out in the YMCA swimming pool. Like the apples on the tree in the Garden of Eden, it was once forbidden fruit.

In your life, was there anything you wanted that you couldn’t have? Why couldn’t you have it? Please tell me about it. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

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