Thursday, May 2, 2013

Brain on Fire

'Twas the week before finals, and all through my mind, 
I kept searching for answers that I couldn't find.
The textbooks were opened while I sat in my chair
But all I could muster was a blank, panicked stare.
My brain was addled with figures and facts
And all week I struggled to try and relax.
The week would soon end, that much I knew
But I still had the final exams to get through.
As I buried my face in my papers and files,
I thought of the end of next week with a smile.
I'd lounge in my PJs, hang out with my cats
And not have to study. Amen to that!
'Til then would I work, having so much to do,
Study Spanish and chemistry 'til my face was blue.
So please pray for students like me, whose fate
Is sealed 'til the day that I graduate.
'Til then, back to studying must I delve
These exams, unfortunately, won't take themselves!

That's a fun little poem I just came up with to describe what I've been going through lately. It's been super stressful having 2 exams this week, plus studying for finals next week. My brain feels like it's fried. However, even though it's mentally taxing doing all this work in a short span of time, I'm sure it doesn't compare to how Susannah Cahalan's brain felt in 2009. In her memoir, "Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness", Cahalan describes how she went from a happy, normal 24-year-old to a seemingly possessed woman with a disorder that many doctors tried--and failed--to diagnose properly. One doctor tried to say she was partying too much. Another said she had schizophrenia. It wasn't until a neurologist named Dr. Najjar did a quick, ingenious test that didn't require any technology more advanced than a pencil and paper that the true cause of Cahalan's behavior was determined. She was diagnosed with a rare disorder that caused half of her brain to become inflamed. One million dollars in medical costs later, she managed to come through her ordeal alive and (almost) back to normal.

I enjoyed reading this book. I like Cahalan's writing style; she writes in an engaging, accessible style. Her day job is as a journalist for the New York Post, and she uses her skills as a reporter to piece together the "month of madness" that she doesn't remember. She tells her harrowing tale well; I couldn't put it down! In describing her disorder, she raises the question of how many more people have the same thing and are misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, autistic or bipolar. Perhaps the number is really small, but that small number is still significant in pointing out the flaws in the American medical system. Many people fall through the cracks; Cahalan was lucky. At any rate, if you want an intriguing, yet quick, read, I'd suggest checking out "Brain on Fire". It really makes you think about how complex, yet fragile, our brains are, as well as how much we still don't know about this vital organ. Perhaps someday we'll unlock all the mysteries of the brain. In the meantime, we can still advocate for mental illness awareness and research; Cahalan's descriptions of how some people treated her while she was in recovery are sad, and it makes you aware of how much stigma is still attached to mental illness.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the suggestions for books for the summer! I have a long list of reading to do in the sunroom when I stop reading argument papers, pod submissions, and blog posts! I hope you continue adding to this blog, especially about new books you have discovered. I am always looking for new titles.