Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Susannah's case attracts the interest of Dr. Arslan. He interviews both Mom and Dad about Susannah's symptoms, and even calls Dr. Bailey. Dr. Bailey tells Dr. Arslan that Susannah drinks two bottles of wine per night. Dr. Arslan pursues two diagnoses: postictal psychosis and schizoaffective disorder, the second of which he doesn't share with Mom and Dad. Susannah explains that that diagnosis refers to a disorder in which a person exhibits mood symptoms with psychosis.
Notably, Cahalan doesn't suggest that Dr. Arslan took Dr. Bailey's assessment of Susannah's drinking habits seriously—if he had, he likely would've moved her to rehab. This adds nuance and depth to Cahalan’s portrayal of the medical system, as it shows that not all doctors pursue such single-minded diagnoses.
Themes
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Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Susannah describes an EEG video in which she pushes her help button. She's on the phone, though it's not clear if she's actually talking to anyone. She also talks into the TV remote. A nurse arrives and gives Susannah some pills, and Susannah begins shouting about being on the news.
Seeing Susannah's psychotic behavior from the impartial EEG video illustrates clearly how ill she truly is, and offers a glimpse into how she appears to others.
Themes
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Susannah describes a hallucination in which she watches a woman talk about her on the news. Susannah feels stupid for speaking to her coworkers and calls for a nurse. She hears one of her roommates, a South American woman, laughing. Suddenly, Susannah can understand the woman saying in Spanish that she's going to record Susannah and pass it on to the Post. The woman then attracts Susannah's attention and tells her that the nurses aren't trustworthy. Susannah panics, pulls out her EEG electrodes, and runs into the hallway. Two nurses catch her and wrestle her to the ground. Susannah loses consciousness.
Though paranoia that people or organizations are conspiring against a patient is a common type of delusion, it's magnified in Susannah because of her job at the Post—she knows the lengths that reporters go for their stories, as she's done this herself. In this case her identity as a journalist exacerbates some of the issues she now faces in the hospital. Essentially, as good as the "real" Susannah might be, she's not a good influence here.
Themes
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon