It was shocking seeing Susannah Cahalan suffering the way she was. This young journalist-to-be was not the person she once was, and it saddened everyone around her.
Here’s what she said about her condition:
“One moment I would be you know, kind of hysterically happy, and then the next moment I would be despondent. I couldn’t control my emotions.”
Cahalan had her first seizure not long after. She was then hospitalized. Her behavior became worse, and even more erratic.
She explains further:
“I was, you know kicking and punching nurses, trying to escape. I believed you know, nurses were turning into people, and playing tricks on me. I was seeing things that weren’t there.”
Paintings would suddenly come to life. Hallucinations occurred. Physical abuse continued even towards family members. An unfortunate mental disorder that was going to lead to institutionalization was what doctors believed.
Then came along Souhel Najjar. He was a doctor that thought perhaps something else was at play here. Something biological. Something treatable.
He decided to put his theory of what was going on to the test. He asked the woman to draw a clock. He then knew what the problem was.
It was the left side of her brain that was not working properly. It was not damaged though. It was actually an immune system disorder.
The doctor explains:
“Disruption of the blood-brain barrier, which is essentially the wall between the periphery and the brain. It prevents harmful substances in the blood to enter into the brain.”
The right drugs can regulate her immune system and Cahalan eventually returned to normal. She now has a totally normal life, and no lasting effects have occurred since.
She explains her ordeal:
“I mean I could have been cognitively impaired and put in a nursing home for the rest of my life, and I’m not. I’m here, and I’m very grateful for that fact.”
She has decided to write a book about the entire ordeal and it is called “Brain on Fire.”
Dr. Najjar founded one of the first clinics in the country that is devoted to treating brain auto-immune diseases like Cahalan had.
Check out this video about Cahalan’s ordeal:
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