Books of 2015, #3: Brain on Fire, by Susannah Cahalan

There’s not many things that I fear, at least in terms of things that could happen to me; in fact, the only one that really scares the hell out of me is losing my sense of self.

My fear is, I know, partly grounded in the fact that it’s almost certainly in my future; though only one of my grandparents has passed away as a direct consequence of Alzheimers, it lurks in the background.

Or I could develop an autoimmune disorder that attacks the fundamental structures of my brain, destroying my personality and plunging me into a stew of paranoia and incoherence that, untreated, would lead to long-term disability and possible death.

The difference between me and Susannah Cahalan, of course, would be that doctors are now more aware of the disease, and there’s a protocol for testing that well understood, so you’ve got at least a marginal chance of being diagnosed in a timely fashion, and people understand how to treat it—though it does often come with a side-order of benign cancer.

To call the book harrowing is to simultaneously overstate and understate the case. Becoming ill, even with an exotic—and potentially fatal—disease is a terrible thing, bug the therapies for the condition, while no picnic, aren’t all that arduous or exotic.

On the other hand, to have your condition be completely opaque to the medical community, to have someone tasked with evaluating your mental health dramatically overstate your alcohol consumption in order to fit their preconcieved notion so that it that much harder to get you into a facility that could start to take care of you…these solvable, these avoidable things are the really dismaying part.

Anyway, the text itself is well written, and even more interesting given that despite it being written by the person to whom it happened, much, even most, of it had to be reconstructed from interviews and watching recordings and reading records.

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Michael Alan Dorman

Yogi, brigand, programmer, thief, musician, Republican, cook. I leave it to you figure out which ones are accurate.