Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Susannah returns to work on Thursday. She finishes one story and pitches two more, neither of which are received well. She tells herself that insecurity is part of her job, but she worries that it's been weeks since she felt good about her job performance. After another two days off of work, she wakes late in the morning feeling refreshed and calls Stephen. She insists they go to Vermont, which they'd been planning to do but postponed when she got sick.
Again, Susannah's identity is in flux as she realizes that she's struggling to embody the role of a successful reporter, an identity that she's successfully inhabited for years. Though she admits that the Vermont trip was planned already, deciding to take more time off of work to spontaneously go suggests that this trip is also part of her illness, or her reaction against it.
Themes
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Blue quotation bubble icon linking to an important quote associated with this summary and analysis.
Stephen tries to convince Susannah to stay home, but then Dr. Rothstein calls Susannah. She answers his call, and he says that her tests came back negative for mono—her illness was likely some sort of virus. When Susannah calls Stephen back, he caves and they head to Vermont later that day. They shop, Stephen skis, and Susannah reads in the lodge. After a snowstorm hits on Sunday, they're forced to stay another day and Stephen finally convinces Susannah to try skiing.
Receiving a diagnosis (even if it's untrue) is once more portrayed as being liberating to a degree. Here, this diagnosis allows Susannah to tell herself that she's all better, which the reader knows isn't true. Again, the fact that this diagnosis comes from Dr. Rothstein shows that even the "good" doctors are flawed.
Themes
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Susannah had skied before without issue, but standing on the top of the mountain, she suffers a panic attack at the thought of having to ski. Stephen convinces her to try and follows her down. By the time she's halfway down, the panic is gone. Susannah says nothing to Stephen, though she realizes the panic was about more than a fear of heights. On Monday night, back at Mom's house, Susannah has trouble sleeping. She goes through old clothes and finds that she finally fits into pants she hasn't been able to wear since she was a teenager. She tells the reader that she'd learn later that this kind of illness ebbs and flows: just when things seem fine, it will return with a vengeance.
It's not clear if Susannah's ability to fit into old pants is due to her illness, age, or lifestyle, but it's nonetheless evidence that her body is absolutely changing. Further, if it is illness, this "good" thing shows how some symptoms of illness don't even read as negative things that people would consider a problem. All of this works together to suggest that Susannah’s illness is more complicated than what she and her doctors believe at this point.
Themes
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon