Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Susannah explains that the hospital is a place without time: there are no clocks or calendars, and Stephen likens the atmosphere to an Atlantic City casino. Susannah develops an affinity for two nurses, and her family develops a routine. Dad arrives in the morning, feeds Susannah breakfast, and reads, while Mom comes on her lunch break and after work. Stephen arrives in the evening and stays until midnight. The nurses allow this because with Stephen there, Susannah doesn't try to escape.
By saying the hospital has no marking of time, Cahalan suggests that it denies this one particular way of gaining control through description and narrative. Adding the days and weeks back into her written story then allows the reader to experience the sense of control that she and her family members never did.
Themes
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Stephen plays a Ryan Adams concert video on a continuous loop, thinking that it might help Susannah "come back," but she admits to the reader that she watched it as though it was the first time, because by this point, she has no short-term memory. She explains that her hippocampus, which is responsible for creating memories, is likely compromised. She recounts several famous medical cases in which the hippocampus in patients was damaged—one patient believed, even into old age, that he was still 20, his age when he suffered damage.
As Cahalan adds in tidbits about these famous medical cases, she situates her battle with this disease in a much wider historical context. This serves as a reminder that the brain is unbelievably intricate and still barely understood, and shows the reader that scientists are even now working to piece together how exactly it all functions.
Themes
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Despite her diminished brain function, Susannah looks forward to walking, eating apples, and having her clothes and body cleaned daily. The first Saturday that she's in the hospital, Susannah's parents allow her cousin, Hannah, to visit. Hannah brings gifts from Susannah's birthday, which Susannah struggles to open. Susannah is confused when Hannah hands her a book, which is by an author she loved.
Susannah doesn't recognize or understand why she's supposed to be excited about this book, suggesting that her long-term memory might also be compromised. This is another reminder of how complex the brain is.
Themes
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Susannah describes an EEG video in which Mom stands by the window, dressed for work. Susannah crawls into bed and Mom tucks her in, but Susannah soon gets up and touches the EEG wires attached to her head.
Cahalan shows that life still goes on, despite the chaos in Susannah’s brain—Mom continues to work, even as she remains present to care for Susannah.
Themes
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
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