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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness (English Edition) par [Cahalan, Susannah]
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Brain on Fire



Maybe it all began with a bug bite, from a bedbug that didn’t exist.

One morning, I’d woken up to find two red dots on the main purplish-blue vein running down my left arm. It was early 2009, and New York City was awash in bedbug scares: they infested offices, clothing stores, movie theaters, and park benches. Though I wasn’t naturally a worrier, my dreams had been occupied for two nights straight by finger-long bedbugs. It was a reasonable concern, though after carefully scouring the apartment, I couldn’t find a single bug or any evidence of their presence. Except those two bites. I even called in an exterminator to check out my apartment, an overworked Hispanic man who combed the whole place, lifting up my sofa bed and shining a flashlight into places I had never before thought to clean. He proclaimed my studio bug free. That seemed unlikely, so I asked for a follow-up appointment for him to spray. To his credit, he urged me to wait before shelling out an astronomical sum to do battle against what he seemed to think was an imaginary infestation. But I pressed him to do it, convinced that my apartment, my bed, my body had been overrun by bugs. He agreed to return and exterminate.

Concerned as I was, I tried to conceal my growing unease from my coworkers. Understandably, no one wanted to be associated with a person with a bedbug problem. So at work the following day, I walked as nonchalantly as possible through the newsroom of the New York Post to my cubicle. I was careful to conceal my bites and tried to appear casual, normal. Not that “normal” means a lot at the Post.

Though it’s notoriously obsessed with what’s new, the Post is nearly as old as the nation itself. Established by Alexander Hamilton in 1801, it is the longest continually run newspaper in the country. In its first century alone, the paper crusaded for the abolition movement and helped promote the creation of Central Park. Today the newsroom itself is cavernous yet airless, filled with rows of open cubicles and a glut of filing cabinets packed with decades of unused, forgotten documents. The walls are freckled with clocks that don’t run, dead flowers hung upside down to dry, a picture of a monkey riding a border collie, and a big foam Six Flags finger, all memorabilia from reporters’ assignments. The PCs are ancient, the copy machines the size of small ponies. A small utility closet that once served as a smoking room now holds supplies, and is marked by a weathered sign warning that the smoking room no longer exists, as if someone might accidentally wander in for a cigarette among the monitors and video equipment. This has been my eccentric little world for the past seven years, since I started here as a seventeen-year-old intern.

Especially around deadline, the room buzzes with activity—keyboards clacking, editors yelling, reporters cackling—the perfect stereotype of a tabloid newsroom.

“Where’s the fucking picture to go with this caption?”

“How is it that he didn’t know she was a prostitute?”

“What color were the socks of the guy who jumped off the bridge?”

It’s like a bar without alcohol, filled with adrenaline-soaked news junkies. The cast of characters here is unique to the Post: the brightest headline writers in the business, the hardened newshounds hunting after exclusives, and type-A workaholics who possess the chameleon ability to either befriend or antagonize almost anyone. Still, on most days, the newsroom is subdued, as everyone silently combs through court documents, interviews sources, or reads newspapers. Often, like today, the newsroom is as quiet as a morgue.

Heading toward my desk to start the day, I wove through the rows of cubicles marked by green Manhattan street signs: Liberty Street, Nassau Street, Pine Street, and William Street, throwbacks to a time when the Post was actually flanked by those downtown streets in its previous home at the South Street Seaport. My desk is at Pine Street. Amid the silence, I slid into my seat beside Angela, my closest friend at the paper, and gave her a tense smile. Trying not to let my question echo too loudly across the noiseless room, I asked, “You know anything about bedbug bites?”

I often joked that if I ever had a daughter, I’d want her to be like Angela. In many ways, she is my newsroom hero. When I first met her, three years before, she was a soft-spoken, shy young woman from Queens, only a few years older than me. She had arrived at the Post from a small weekly paper and since then had matured under the pressure of a big-city tabloid into one of the Post’s most talented reporters, churning out reams of our best stories. Most late Friday nights, you’d find Angela writing four stories on split screens simultaneously. I couldn’t help but look up to her. Now I really needed her advice.

Hearing that dreaded word, bedbugs, Angela scooted her chair away from mine. “Don’t tell me you have them,” she said with an impish smile. I started to show her my arm, but before I could get into my tale of woe, my phone rang.

“You ready?” It was the new Sunday editor, Steve. He was just barely in his midthirties, yet he had already been named head editor of the Sunday paper, the section I worked for, and despite his friendliness, he intimidated me. Every Tuesday, each reporter had a pitch meeting to showcase some of his or her ideas for that Sunday’s paper. At the sound of his voice, I realized with panic that I was completely unprepared for this week’s meeting. Usually I had at least three coherent ideas to pitch; they weren’t always great, but I always had something. Now I had nothing, not even enough to bluff my way through the next five minutes. How had I let that happen? This meeting was impossible to forget, a weekly ritual that we all fastidiously prepared for, even during days off.

Bedbugs forgotten, I widened my eyes at Angela as I stood back up, gamely hoping it all would work out once I got to Steve’s office.

Nervously, I walked back down “Pine Street” and into Steve’s office. I sat down next to Paul, the Sunday news editor and close friend who had mentored me since I was a sophomore in college, giving him a nod but avoiding direct eye contact. I readjusted my scratched-up wide-framed Annie Hall glasses, which a publicist friend once described as my own form of birth control because “no one will sleep with you with those on.”

We sat there in silence for a moment, as I tried to let myself be comforted by Paul’s familiar, larger-than-life presence. With his shock of prematurely white hair and his propensity to toss the word fuck around like a preposition, he is the essence of a throwback newsman and a brilliant editor.

He had given me a shot as a reporter during the summer of my sophomore year of college after a family friend introduced us. After a few years in which I worked as a runner, covering breaking news and feeding information to another reporter to write the piece, Paul offered me my first big assignment: an article on the debauchery at a New York University fraternity house. When I returned with a story and pictures of me playing beer pong, he was impressed with my chutzpah; even though the exposé never ran, he assigned me more stories until I had been hired on full time in 2008. Now, as I sat in Steve’s office wholly unprepared, I couldn’t help but feel like a work in progress, not worthy of Paul’s faith and respect.

The silence deepened until I looked up. Steve and Paul were staring at me expectantly, so I just started talking, hoping something would come. “I saw this story on a blog . . . ,” I said, desperately plucking up wisps of half-formed ideas.

“That’s really just not good enough,” Steve interrupted. “You need to be bringing in better stuff than this. Okay? Please don’t come in with nothing again.” Paul nodded, his face blazing red. For the first time since I’d started working on my high school newspaper, journalism disagreed with me. I left the meeting furious at myself and bewildered by my own ineptitude.

“You okay?” Angela asked as I returned to my desk.

“Yeah, you know, I’m just bad at my job. No big deal,” I joked grimly.

She laughed, revealing a few charmingly crooked incisor teeth. “Oh, come on, Susannah. What happened? Don’t take it seriously. You’re a pro.”

“Thanks, Ang,” I said, sipping my lukewarm coffee. “Things just aren’t going my way.”

I brooded over the day’s disasters that evening as I walked west from the News Corp. building on Sixth Avenue, through the tourist clusterfuck that is Times Square, toward my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. As if purposely living the cliché of a New York writer, I rented a cramped one-room studio, where I slept on a pullout sofa. The apartment, eerily quiet, overlooked the courtyard of several tenements, and I often awoke not to police sirens and grumbling garbage trucks but to the sound of a neighbor playing the accordion on his balcony.

Still obsessed with my bites, despite the exterminator’s assurance that I had nothing to worry about, I prepared for him to spray the place and spent that night discarding things that could be harboring bedbugs. Into the garbage went my beloved Post clips, hundreds of articles reminding me of how bizarre my job is: the victims and suspects, dangerous slums, prisons and hospitals, twelve-hour shifts spent shivering inside photographers’ cars waiting to photograph—or “pop”—celebrities. I had always loved every minute of it. So why was I suddenly so terrible at it?

As I shoved these treasures into the trash bags, I paused on a few headlines, among them the biggest story of my career to date: the time I managed to land an exclusive jailhouse interview with child kidnapper Michael Devlin. The national media were hot on the story, and I was only a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, yet Devlin spoke to me twice. But the story didn’t end there. His lawyers went nuts after the article ran, launching a smear campaign against the Post and calling for a judicial gag order, while the local and national media began debating my methods on live TV and questioning the ethics of jailhouse interviews and tabloids in general. Paul fielded several tearful phone calls from me during that time, which bound us together, and in the end, both the paper and my editors stood by me. Though the experience had rattled me, it also whetted my appetite, and from then on, I became the resident “jailhouser.” Devlin was eventually sentenced to three consecutive lifetimes in prison.

Then there was the butt implant story, “Rear and Present Danger,” a headline that still makes me laugh. I had to go undercover as a stripper looking for cheap butt enhancements from a woman who was illegally dispensing them out of a midtown hotel room. As I stood there with my pants around my ankles, I tried not to be insulted when she announced that she would need “a thousand dollars per cheek,” twice the amount she charged the woman who had come forward to the Post.

Journalism was thrilling; I had always loved living a reality that was more fabulist than fiction, though little did I know that my life was about to become so bizarre as to be worthy of coverage in my own beloved tabloid.

Even though the memory made me smile, I added this clip to the growing trash pile—“where it belongs,” I scoffed, despite the fact that those crazy stories had meant the world to me. Though it felt necessary at the moment, this callous throwing away of years’ worth of work was completely out of character for me. I was a nostalgic pack rat, who held on to poems that I had written in fourth grade and twenty-some-odd diaries that dated back to junior high. Though there didn’t seem to be much of a connection among my bedbug scare, my forgetfulness at work, and my sudden instinct to purge my files, what I didn’t know then is that bug obsession can be a sign of psychosis. It’s a little-known problem, since those suffering from parasitosis, or Ekbom syndrome, as it’s called, are most likely to consult exterminators or dermatologists for their imaginary infestations instead of mental health professionals, and as a result they frequently go undiagnosed. My problem, it turns out, was far vaster than an itchy forearm and a forgotten meeting.

After hours of packing everything away to ensure a bedbug-free zone, I still didn’t feel any better. As I knelt by the black garbage bags, I was hit with a terrible ache in the pit of my stomach—that kind of free-floating dread that accompanies heartbreak or death. When I got to my feet, a sharp pain lanced my mind, like a white-hot flash of a migraine, though I had never suffered from one before. As I stumbled to the bathroom, my legs and body just wouldn’t react, and I felt as if I were slogging through quicksand. I must be getting the flu, I thought.


This might not have been the flu, though, the same way there may have been no bedbugs. But there likely was a pathogen of some sort that had invaded my body, a little germ that set everything in motion. Maybe it came from that businessman who had sneezed on me in the subway a few days before, releasing millions of virus particles onto the rest of us in that subway car? Or maybe it was in something I ate or something that slipped inside me through a tiny wound on my skin, maybe through one of those mysterious bug bites?

There my mind goes again.

The doctors don’t actually know how it began for me. What’s clear is that if that man had sneezed on you, you’d most likely just get a cold. For me, it flipped my universe upside down and very nearly sent me to an asylum for life.

Revue de presse

With eagle-eye precision and brutal honesty, Susannah Cahalan turns her journalistic gaze on herself as she bravely looks back on one of the most harrowing and unimaginable experiences one could ever face: the loss of mind, body and self ... a mesmerizing story (Mira Bartók, New York Times Bestselling Author Of 'the Memory Palace' )

Captivating ... Cahalan's prose carries a sharp, unsparing punch (Michael Greenberg New York Times )

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 3558 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 290 pages
  • Editeur : Free Press; Édition : Reprint (13 novembre 2012)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
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  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 5.0 étoiles sur 5 1 commentaire client
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Format: Relié
Tracy McMillan's Why You're Not Married, is very insightful and very entertaining. In a world where women are increasingly assertive in public affairs while expected to balance those with motherhood and wifehood, this book comes as a welcome navigational tool in the different routes to find partnership and happiness. Tracy Mcmillan's book was suggested to me with The Oaf, by a friend who thought they provided unique perspectives. He was right. The writing is evocative, descriptive and smooth.
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) HASH(0x8f307144) étoiles sur 5 2.761 commentaires
194 internautes sur 210 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8f31bcc0) étoiles sur 5 Freaky Good 13 novembre 2012
Par Julie Merilatt - Publié sur
Format: Relié
What makes this book so terrifying is its reality. Witnessing Susannah's decent into her bizarre illness is effing frightening, but what's even more disconcerting is that people throughout history have probably suffered from her condition but have been misdiagnosed as autistic, schizophrenic, or even possessed. This type of autoimmune disorder is becoming more identifiable, but much about it still remains a mystery, especially since the broad range of symptoms so resemble mental illness.

Cahalan's background as a journalist enables her to reconstruct her ordeal despite not forming memories for a month-long period. She interviewed her family members, doctors, nurses - anyone who witnessed her seizures, her slurred speech, her neurotic, paranoid delusions, and her awkward, uncontrolled movements. She deftly narrates a period of her life that changed her forever, as her body attacked her brain and she completely lost all control of herself. But she also successfully brings awareness to her readers. So if I start exhibiting strange behavior in the next few weeks, it's probably psychosomatic sympathy symptoms.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.
286 internautes sur 324 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8f31bd14) étoiles sur 5 Scary story, extremely well told 14 novembre 2012
Par Philly gal - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Brain on Fire is Susannah Cahalan's reconstruction of her harrowing year with a brain inflammation. Calahan was a 24 year old reporter with the New York Post in 2008 when she began to exhibit signs of mental illness. She was living on her own in NYC and had recently begun a serious relationship with Stephen. Cahalan's symptoms were a mixture of the physical (weakness on her left side, difficulty speaking) and the mental (paranoia, violence and psychosis). Her condition was undiagnosed for an agonizing period of time. Some of her physicians thought she was suffering from alcohol withdrawal despite the fact that she told them she was only an occasional drinker. She came very close to being diagnosed as a schizophrenic. Both of her parents but especially her father insisted that her illness had a physical cause and only with this advocacy was she admitted to NYU. There she was diagnosed as having an autoimmune inflammation in the one hemisphere of her brain. In a marvelous nod to medicine as an art not a science she is finally diagnosed by a physician who administers a simple straight forward test - she is asked to fill in numbers on a drawing of a clock. Because she writes all of the numbers on one side of the drawing the physicians now have proof that the half of her brain is inflamed. So after over one million dollars worth of laboratory tests, she is diagnosed by a savvy MD with pencil and paper! Once the diagnosis of autoimmune disease is confirmed by researchers at Penn, Cahalan has a slow but steady recovery. There are two back stories going on that deserve a mention. One, her new boyfriend Stephen sticks around even when her strange behavior appears to have a mental origin not a physical one. Surely a guy worth knowing! Secondly, Cahalan renews her strained relationship with her father as he is tirelessly at her bedside throughout her illness. As they say - it is an ill wind that blows no good.
The strength in this story is Cahalan's meticulous research. In reviewing her medical records, reading a journal her parents kept through the illness, interviewing friends and family for their perspectives, and piecing together the little that she remembers she has told a story that reads like a suspense novel. She is very good at synthesizing complicated medical issues into readable prose. For me this was a quick read not the medical tour de force that was Henrietta Lacks but good nonetheless. The one lesson I take from all of these nonfiction stories that deal with our health care system is don't enter it on your own. You must get an advocate (and not a timid one) who will fight for you and insist that you get top notch attention. It is easy to be shunted off to the easiest diagnosis. Cahalan makes the point that there are more than a few people with her syndrome who have been misdiagnosed and either did not recover or sit in psychiatric institutions today. Scary for sure!
164 internautes sur 185 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8f320168) étoiles sur 5 I am speechless. Excellent. 15 novembre 2012
Par Cindylou - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
I didn't put this book down after I started it. I couldn't. I finished it in all one sitting. This book will stick with me for a long time. Most disturbing is had I been her, I know that my parents would have called it possession. What would have become of me?

I have just finished reading it and haven't reflected on what I've read yet but felt compelled to leave this five star review with a thank you to the author for writing this book and making herself so vulnerable for us.
76 internautes sur 86 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8f320150) étoiles sur 5 "Something is really wrong." 18 novembre 2012
Par E. Bukowsky - Publié sur
Format: Relié
"Brain on Fire" is the true story of Susannah Cahalan's "lost month of madness," most of which she remembers imperfectly or not at all. Since she is a reporter, however, she has been able to piece together much of what happened by speaking to doctors, nurses, friends, and family; reading "thousands of pages of medical records"; consulting her dad's journal and her parents' "hospital notebook"; watching video footage of herself; and trying to reconstruct any impressions that she still retains.

In the preface, Susannah is in NYU Medical Center, restrained by "a thick mesh vest" to prevent her from pulling out her EEG wires or trying to escape from her "captors." The precise origin of Cahalan's illness is unknown, but one day in 2009, this pretty, carefree, vivacious, and confident New York Post reporter began to exhibit strange symptoms. She became obsessed with bedbugs, developed migraines as well as tingling and numbness in her left hand, cried uncontrollably, had persistent insomnia, could no longer cope with her professional responsibilities, felt as if she was "slogging through quicksand," and experienced seizures, hallucinations, and paranoia. Fortunately, her parents and boyfriend, Stephen, stood by her, refusing to believe that she was psychotic and needed to be institutionalized.

After a variety of physicians examined her and ran batteries of tests--but failed to pinpoint the exact cause of her physical and mental deterioration--Susannah found her savior in Dr. Souhel Najjar, "the man to go to when nothing made sense." He suspected that she might be suffering from autoimmune encephalitis and a neuro-oncologist named Dr. Josep Dalmau confirmed the diagnosis. Soon, Dr. Najjar began a multi-faceted treatment program to reduce the inflammation in Susannah's brain and neutralize the harmful antibodies that were wreaking havoc in her system.

Susannah's ordeal teaches us never to be too complacent about our health, especially at a time when the incidence of auto-immune disorders has skyrocketed. She was stricken out of the blue, with no warning that her life was about to be upended. What if she had been penniless, with no health insurance, strong support system, and friends to assist her? The total cost of her treatment was one million dollars, some of which had to be paid out-of-pocket. The author knows that, in some ways, she is very fortunate. When she could no longer help herself, there were others who were willing and able to advocate on her behalf. This intimate and heartrending first-person account of Cahalan's battle with a bizarre and destructive malady is poignant, compelling, and terrifying. It is a must-read for anyone who is fascinated by the complex workings of the human brain.
22 internautes sur 23 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8f320618) étoiles sur 5 Gut wrenching story told with a journalist's style 30 décembre 2012
Par Jeremy - Publié sur
Format: Relié
I first heard about this woman's struggle on NPR's Fresh Air. The interview sold me. This is a book that I would have to read. It was very quickly be-Kindled.

The book is told in three sections. I will address the first two, well, first. They are quick, fascinating reads. The stuff of House. What is wrong with this young woman? Will she make it? On balance these parts work. One struggles with the author's style. It's an easy criticism to say the story lacks the emotional depth which would make these sections more satisfying because she is a journalist. But the fact is she is a journalist. Whether this accounts for the "just-the-facts" style, whether it's because she has no memory of the events she pieced together from witness accounts, or whether it's because those accounts are too personal and raw to share, the reader is left wanting just a bit more. These sections would have benefited from an editor's more careful scrutiny as well. In one passage that almost acts as the climax to the pre-hospitalization story, we're told it's Saturday, only later to be told the diner was filled because it was Sunday, only later to be brought back to Saturday. In another passage we find one of several typos, "thbre" instead of "there." In the end you'll forgive these mistakes, contributing though they do to a rush-to-press affect, because the story is so engaging.

In hindsight I bought the book because of the third section. The interview with Gross focused on the historical implications of this newly discovered disease. How many people were abandoned to asylums and psych wards, mis-diagnosed as posessed or schizophrenic, when a simple but costly treatment could have been administered? How many have it right now but will spend their days lost in pain in nursing homes because they don't have the insurance that the author had? In the days leading up to reading the book my mind filled with these ideas. The author in an attempt to examine these issues in parity with the other two sections missed the mark. Indeed, section three could be a work of its own. Instead it glosses over these broader implications never fully developing them as they deserve to be.

I give the book three stars. There is little doubt that you will fly through the first two sections only to have your enthusiasm abate with the third. I hope the author having told her story will return to part three and give it some flesh as a new piece. I continue to believe that it would be an amazing investigation.
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