Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

by

Susannah Cahalan

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Dad Character Analysis

Dad lives with his wife, Giselle, in Brooklyn Heights. He and Susannah aren't particularly close at the beginning of the memoir. When Susannah spends the night with Dad just prior to her hospitalization, Susannah says unspeakable things to Dad that make him cry. She also hallucinates that Dad killed Giselle, after which she refuses to allow him into her hospital room at NYU. Despite Susannah's protests, Dad spends every day with her at the hospital outside her room. When her paranoia recedes, he begins spending his time in her room and feeds her breakfast daily. He and Mom keep a joint journal to communicate with each other about Susannah's progress and what the doctors say, and he also keeps a personal journal that he later shares with Susannah. When Dr. Najjar informs Mom and Dad that he'd like to perform a brain biopsy on Susannah, Dad especially struggles: his mother was an RN and never spoke well of brain surgeons. Over the course of Susannah's recovery, she and Dad become especially close as a result of how much time they spent together in the hospital. Despite this, Dad mostly refuses to talk about what happened, as it's too painful for him.

Dad Quotes in Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

The Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness quotes below are all either spoken by Dad or refer to Dad. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon and Schuster edition of Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness published in 2012.
Chapter 13 Quotes

Though my behavior was worsening day by day, it was still difficult for her to reconcile the old image that she had of her daughter as trustworthy, hard working, and independent with the new, unpredictable, and dangerous one.

Related Characters: Susannah (speaker), Mom, Dad
Related Symbols: Apartments
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

Though it had been eight years since their divorce, it was still hard for them to be in the same room with each other, and this shared journal allowed them to maintain common ground in the shared fight for my life.

Related Characters: Susannah (speaker), Mom, Dad
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 41 Quotes

We didn't mean to exclude others. My dad and I had gone off to war, fought in the trenches, and against all odds had come out of it alive and intact. There are few other experiences that can bring two people closer together than staring death in the face.

Related Characters: Sybil (speaker), Dad, Giselle
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Brain on Fire LitChart as a printable PDF.
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness PDF

Dad Character Timeline in Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

The timeline below shows where the character Dad appears in Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Love and Family Theme Icon
...numbness especially, but Susannah assures her she's fine. On her third day off of work, Dad insists on coming to see Susannah. He takes her out to a matinee of the... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
After the movie, Dad walks Susannah back to her apartment to check it for bedbugs. When they get close... (full context)
Chapter 11
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
...Stephen, and that bipolar makes her who she is. Earlier that day she'd spoken to Dad about going back to school to study business, and Dad had counseled her to write... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...in her computer diary about wanting to "mother" Stephen, and she notes that talking to Dad makes her feel more sane. (full context)
Chapter 13
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...to return to her apartment, as long as she agrees to spend a night with Dad. Susannah agrees and happily leaps into Dad and Giselle's car. At her apartment, Dad is... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
When they're finished, Giselle heads downstairs and Susannah tries to talk Dad into letting her stay in the apartment alone. Dad finally convinces her to come with... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
When they finally arrive in Brooklyn, Susannah is exhausted. Giselle and Dad cook while Susannah lounges on a couch. When Dad and Giselle call Susannah for dinner,... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Susannah asks Dad to spend the night with her in the den. They talk for a while, and... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
After banishing Dad, Susannah hears a pounding from upstairs. She ignores it, but soon hears Giselle pleading with... (full context)
Chapter 14
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Mom and Allen arrive at Dad's house the next morning. Susannah races to their car and explains that Dad kidnapped her.... (full context)
Chapter 15
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Susannah's difficult nature worsens. When Allen and Dad arrive, she yells at them and insists the nurses ban them from her room. She... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...equipment, says that she saw Susannah on the news, and asks why she doesn't let Dad into the room. Susannah starts pulling the EEG electrodes off her scalp and tries to... (full context)
Chapter 18
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter 19
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Now that Susannah has tried to escape three times, a nurse mentions to Dad that if Susannah's behavior continues, she'll be moved to a psychiatric ward. Dad wants the... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Mom visits on her lunch breaks and when she gets off work. She and Dad also start a shared journal to communicate about Susannah with each other, as they still... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...including Dr. Friedman. Dr. Freidman attends to Susannah's dangerously high blood pressure, and speaks to Dad in the hallway after his examination. Dad describes Susannah before she became ill, and Dr.... (full context)
Chapter 20
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Susannah explains to the reader that Dad begins keeping a personal journal to track Susannah's developments and help himself cope. From this... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
When Dad enters Susannah's room, he runs into the new security guard. Susannah greets Dad warmly and... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...Most of the time, Susannah stares off into space. When she is lucid, she asks Dad to let her leave because the hospital is killing her. Both Mom and Dad hide... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...young orderly arrives to collect Susannah for her spinal tap, he cheerfully tries to engage Dad in conversation in the elevator. Dad is angry when the orderly asks if Susannah has... (full context)
Chapter 21
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 22
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...Susannah explains that it was a fair question. She says that at about this time, Dad gave her a notebook to record her difficulties and to use for writing thank you... (full context)
Chapter 23
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...infectious and autoimmune diseases. Her MRIs and CT scans are also clean, and Mom and Dad sense that the doctors are starting to worry that they won't figure out what the... (full context)
Chapter 24
Love and Family Theme Icon
...with a nurse for asking if Susannah has always been so slow. When he and Dad talk later, they discuss that Susannah is still there, and they must fight for her.... (full context)
Chapter 25
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Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...a mental institution. The day after the second spinal tap, Dr. Russo arrives to tell Dad that Susannah's white blood cell count is four times what it was after the first... (full context)
Chapter 26
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...her lips, habits that are now constant. Mom is excited to meet Dr. Najjar, but Dad is much less enthusiastic. When Dr. Najjar enters Susannah's room, he warmly greets Mom and... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...autoimmune disease. The diagnosis requires a brain biopsy, but Dr. Najjar doesn't tell Mom and Dad that. (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...thinks all this through and then sits down next to Susannah. He tells Mom and Dad that Susannah's brain is on fire, takes Susannah's hands in his, and tells her that... (full context)
Chapter 27
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Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Dr. Najjar tells Mom and Dad that he'd like to start Susannah on steroids, and mentions a doctor at the University... (full context)
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...Dr. Russo into the hallway with questions, but starts sobbing instead. In his journal later, Dad would write about his mother, an RN, who spoke often about bad things happening during... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Over Easter weekend, a nurse describes to Mom and Dad how they'll perform the surgery. Susannah is silent through the nurse's description, but begins crying... (full context)
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...an orderly fetches Susannah for surgery. A resident shaves a portion of Susannah's head, and Dad reminds her again of their motto. After the nurses put Susannah under anesthesia, the surgeon... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...waking up in a recovery room. She can't move, but tries to wave at Mom, Dad, Stephen, and Allen. A nurse gives Susannah some water when she asks, but then tells... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
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Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Hours later, at 11 pm, a nurse tells Dad that Susannah is in the ICU. He lets himself into her room, and uncharacteristically, Susannah... (full context)
Chapter 31
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Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Later in the afternoon, Dr. Russo arrives and tells Dad that they've officially diagnosed Susannah with anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis. She describes the usual progression... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
...reacts when she hears Dr. Russo mention the possibility of chemotherapy. She begins crying, and Dad rushes to comfort her. Susannah cries that she's dying, and Dad promises to get her... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...her diagnosis, a young doctor leads a group of medical students into Susannah's room while Dad feeds her breakfast. The doctor speaks as though Susannah isn't there, and shares her diagnosis.... (full context)
Chapter 32
Love and Family Theme Icon
The next morning, Mom, Dad, Allen, Stephen, and one of Susannah's college friends, Lindsey, collect Susannah's belongings and help Susannah... (full context)
Chapter 37
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...pedicure in preparation for a family wedding. She promises to call in an hour. When Dad arrives in town to check on Susannah and finds that she's been gone for twice... (full context)
Chapter 39
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Every two weeks, Mom, Dad, and Susannah have an appointment with Dr. Najjar. He and Dr. Arslan slowly reduce Susannah's... (full context)
Chapter 40
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...is distraught at the thought of being back in the hospital. To cheer her up, Dad invites Stephen and Susannah to spend the night at his house. They sit in the... (full context)
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Love and Family Theme Icon
...outdoor speakers, and puts on Rihanna's song "Umbrella." She looks back at Stephen, Giselle, and Dad, and begins swaying happily. Stephen gets up to dance with Susannah, and Dad and Giselle... (full context)
Chapter 41
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Susannah begins her journal on June 3. Dad sits with her and suggests that she begin to write down what she remembers about... (full context)
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Susannah explains that Dad helped her for her benefit only, as he overwhelmingly refuses to talk about her time... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
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Love and Family Theme Icon
By summer, Susannah and Dad regularly have dinner together. She tells the reader that even now, she and Dad sometimes... (full context)
Chapter 42
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In July, Susannah's lease on her apartment expires, so she and Dad meet to pack up her things. Susannah only writes one line in her journal about... (full context)
Chapter 45
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Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...Arslan. Susannah tells him that she feels totally back to normal, and both Mom and Dad agree. Dr. Arslan releases Susannah from his care with a smile. However, Susannah tells the... (full context)
Chapter 46
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...at NYU. Susannah, Mom, Allen, and Stephen are late and slip into the lecture behind Dad, Angela, and another friend. Dr. Najjar lists tests that came back clean for a patient... (full context)
Chapter 53
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
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...tells the nurse her name, the nurse's eyes widen and she embraces Susannah. Susannah remembers Dad feeding her and Stephen bringing her things from home. The purple lady kisses Susannah on... (full context)