Susannah Cahalan

Susannah Cahalan

On February 18, 2013 at 5p.m. in Simon Hall, alumna Susannah Cahalan talked about her book “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness.” The book chronicles her ordeal with a rare medical condition.

Cahalan was the first case of Anti-NMDA-Receptor Autoimmune Encephalitis to be discovered at New York University and she was the 217th person ever to be diagnosed.

After opening with a reading and commentary, she was joined on stage by Washington University faculty for a discussion of her malady and ensuing experience.

The panelists were Leonard Green, PhD, professor of psychology (also serving as moderator) and Rebecca Lester, PhD, professor of anthropology, both in Arts & Sciences; and Eugene Rubin, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine.

In 2009, things were going very well for Cahalan: she had a new job as a New York Post reporter, and she was in a committed relationship.

Then, out of the blue, everything changed. Without warning, her arms whipped straight out, she stiffened like a mummy, her eyes rolled back and foam spurted out of her mouth.

For the next month, Cahalan, a 2007 graduate in Arts & Sciences, would experience not only seizures, but also strange, terrifying hallucinations and paranoid fixations. At the hospital, her medical team was stumped.

Fortunately for Cahalan, the mystery finally was solved by a neurologist newly assigned to her case.

During the long road to recovery, she turned her reporter’s eye on herself. The result is Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, her part-memoir, part-medical suspense story detailing her ordeal with a rare and terrifying disease.