On Saturday night, I watched “Brain on Fire.” The story based around true events involving 24-year old Susanah Cahalan. The movie chronicles a New York Post reporter struck out of the blue with a rare autoimmune illness. She was a healthy, happy and active girl until the day severe symptoms took over her body eventually leaving her in a catatonic state. Numbness, hallucinations, seizures, psychosis and personality disorder sent her into a world of madness. She was no longer the girl everyone knew. She laid in a bed immobile without the ability to interact with the world in any way. She was lost in her body and mind without any clue of time. During the month of illness erratic behavior reached heights that frightened others and endangered herself. Her parents refused to give up the fight for her life. They insisted their daughter was still somewhere inside the still body. Unwilling to give up, intense pressure was placed on the team of doctors to get explanations.
The first neurologist assured everything looked normal. He suggested life’s stress was the cause for the breakdown. An attempt at therapy got her a bipolar disorder diagnosis and prescription that would supposedly make her better. A second opinion with a neurologist claimed she was suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It became guess-work as she fell deeper into an unresponsive state that could possibly result in being comatose. Her last hope came after the month-long emotional and psychological disappearance. Dr. Souhel Najjar studied the case meticulously. He made the discovery that her “brain was on fire.” His diagnosis and treatment for anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis brought her back to the living. Her immune system had been attacking the brain taking her in a downward spiral. It left her at the mercy of others to figure out how to save her. She was the 217th person in the world to receive the diagnosis making the condition extremely unusual. Thankfully this story had a blissful ending. Her cognizance and mental health was restored allowing for a normal life.
The story is powerful, certainly thought-provoking. In today’s modern world we rely on medical expertise to treat the illnesses. We look to these resources to figure out the reason and solution to our malaise. Do you ever wonder how many others have been misdiagnosed? How many patients have been prescribed medication erroneously? It is essential to do your own research questioning medical experts during times of illness. You know your body better than anyone. If you feel something is off kilter insist on getting the information necessary to satisfy your state of well-being. If Susanah’s parents had not demanded further testing, she might not have been present today to write her own memoir.
For further information about the disease see Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance.
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