Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

by

Susannah Cahalan

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Mom Character Analysis

Mom works at the DA's office. She's very close to Susannah before Susannah becomes ill. Because Mom is a worrier and is deathly afraid of cancer, Susannah resists telling Mom that she's ill until after she has her first seizure, after which Stephen insists they clue Mom in. Mom and her husband, Allen, care for Susannah for several days in their home and arrange several appointments with Dr. Bailey, a neurologist. Though Mom is certainly aware that Susannah isn't being herself, she also attempts to give Susannah the benefit of the doubt and allow her to function independently prior to her hospitalization. After Susannah is hospitalized, Mom is diligent about keeping notes and questions for the doctors. She and Dad, who have been divorced for eight years, put aside their differences to advocate for Susannah to receive the best care. Mom forms a special affinity for one doctor, Dr. Siegel, and is distraught when she learns that he's no longer on Susannah's case. Throughout Susannah's recovery, Mom is tasked with caring for Susannah. She makes sure that Susannah takes her medications, which Susannah resents her for. Mom must treat Susannah like a child in order to keep her safe and taking her medications, and this doesn't change until Mom finally admits how scared she was that Susannah would die.

Mom Quotes in Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

The Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness quotes below are all either spoken by Mom or refer to Mom. 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 9 Quotes

"You don't have to do that," I insisted, my voice mellowing as I returned, almost instantly, to my old self. Manic episodes can fade away as quickly as they arise. "I don't want her to worry."

Related Characters: Susannah (speaker), Stephen, Mom
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

Even during this time when I hardly recognize myself, there are still shadows of the real Susannah, a person who cares what her family and friends think, who doesn't want to cause them pain.

Related Characters: Susannah (speaker), Stephen, Mom, Allen
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
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 14 Quotes

"Her EEG was completely normal," Bailey protested, looking through my file. "MRI normal, exam normal, blood work normal. It's all normal."

"Well, she's not normal," my mom snapped as I sat there, quiet and polite with my hands folded in my lap. She and Allen had made a pact that they would not leave Dr. Bailey's office without getting me admitted to a hospital.

Related Characters: Mom (speaker), Dr. Bailey (speaker), Susannah, Allen
Page Number: 70
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 39 Quotes

In many ways, during that recovery period at my mother's home, I associated the pills—and the fights they engendered—with her. In a practical sense, I needed her to portion out the pills because it was far too complicated a task for me at the time. In a more emotional sense, though, I began to feel that she, like the pills, embodied my contemptible dependence.

Related Characters: Susannah (speaker), Mom (speaker)
Related Symbols: Apartments
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 42 Quotes

It was one thing to live at my parents' house for a few months, knowing that I had my own place just a train ride away. Now my only home was with my mom; it was like a complete return to childhood.

Related Characters: Susannah (speaker), Mom, Allen
Related Symbols: Apartments
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:
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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness PDF

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

The timeline below shows where the character Mom appears in Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...says that she's the exact opposite of a hypochondriac, and usually needs prodding from her mom to attend her regular doctor's appointments. She's worried by Dr. Rothstein's worry, and feels as... (full context)
Chapter 4
Love and Family Theme Icon
Susannah takes three days off of work. Finally, she calls Mom. Mom is worried about the numbness especially, but Susannah assures her she's fine. On her... (full context)
Chapter 5
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 7
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...Susannah if she's okay, since she's talking so fast, and he asks if she's called Mom recently. Susannah explains to the reader that Paul said later that he thought Susannah was... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
...ten minutes, Paul heads inside and calls Angela. He insists they need to call Susannah's mom because something is very wrong. Susannah stays outside and feels the same kind of feeling... (full context)
Chapter 9
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Stephen insists he has to call Susannah's mom, but Susannah, suddenly back to her normal self, doesn't want Mom to worry. Stephen steps... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
The next morning, Mom bombards Stephen with anxious questions. Stephen, Mom, and Allen try to convince Susannah to move... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...past the first line. She begins to pace and wanders into the family room, where Mom and Allen are watching the medical drama House. The green couch suddenly looks garish and... (full context)
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Regardless, Allen and Mom drive Susannah to Dr. Bailey's on Monday. The painting in the waiting room seems to... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...her a prescription for an anti-seizure medication and refers her to a psychiatrist. He pulls Mom aside afterwards and tells her that he believes Susannah is partying too hard, working too... (full context)
Chapter 10
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Allen drives Mom and Susannah to the psychiatrist, Dr. Sarah Levin. Susannah is excited to see her, both... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
While Susannah is with Dr. Levin, Mom calls Susannah's younger brother, James. She explains what's going on with Susannah and asks James... (full context)
Chapter 11
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...fact that she's only been on it for 24 hours. Susannah takes it anyway when Mom begs, but wakes at midnight with a start. She believes the medication is taking over... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Susannah paces and finds herself on the third floor, where Mom and Allen sleep. She stands over Mom and strokes Mom's hair. Mom wakes up 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
...walks into the living room and announces that she needs to break up with Stephen. Mom and Allen nod, but Susannah then announces that she needs to quit her job at... (full context)
Chapter 12
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...door to jump out of the car, but Stephen grabs her before she can jump. Mom screams, and Stephen tells Susannah in a level voice that her behavior isn't okay. When... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
When the technician leaves, Susannah laughs. She realizes that Mom and Allen must've hired an actress to pose as the technician to punish her for... (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
The next day, Mom finally gives in to Susannah's pleading and allows her to return to her apartment, as... (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... (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
...and hallucinations. He insists that she just needs to stop partying and take her medications. Mom lists Susannah's symptoms (seizures, insomnia, and paranoia, all of which is getting worse), and points... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
An hour later, Mom, Allen, and Susannah enter the lobby of the NYU hospital. As they locate the admittance... (full context)
Chapter 15
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...room, a nurse takes her health history. Susannah can answer most of the questions, and Mom fills in what she can't. After a few hours, an EEG technician arrives and begins... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...the door. She yells, pulls her leggings back up, and returns to bed. Susannah calls Mom and quietly tells her what happened. Mom sounds frenzied, but Susannah hangs up when she... (full context)
Chapter 16
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...Susannah explains that Dr. Siegel is very charismatic and makes a particularly positive impression on Mom. He assures Mom that Susannah will be fine, and Mom nicknames him "Bugsy." (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... (full context)
Chapter 19
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... (full context)
Chapter 20
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...lucid, she asks Dad to let her leave because the hospital is killing her. Both Mom and Dad hide their desperation from their friends and coworkers. (full context)
Chapter 21
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Love and Family 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... (full context)
Chapter 22
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...her tongue twists, and when she's tired, she lets her tongue hang out. This terrifies Mom. When Dr. Russo tries to lead Susannah through tests, Susannah cannot repeat "ca, ca, ca,"... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...number of other tests in process to discover why the white blood cells are elevated. Mom is relieved and goes home that evening to research the frightening possibilities, which include meningitis... (full context)
Chapter 23
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...number of 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... (full context)
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Later, when Dr. Russo comes in, she tells Mom that she and Dr. Najjar would like to do a second spinal tap. She explains... (full context)
Chapter 24
Love and Family Theme Icon
The following morning, Mom finally calls James and lets Susannah speak to him on the phone. Susannah says his... (full context)
Chapter 25
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...they still don't know why. Dad writes this down in the journal he shares with Mom, and then tries to help Susannah write the news down in her own journal so... (full context)
Chapter 26
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...finally scheduled to arrive. Susannah drools and smacks her lips, habits that are now constant. Mom is excited to meet Dr. Najjar, but Dad is much less enthusiastic. When Dr. Najjar... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...a rare 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
...as he 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... (full context)
Chapter 27
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...Dr. Russo arrives and confirms that the team would like to perform a brain biopsy. Mom pulls Dr. Russo into the hallway with questions, but starts sobbing instead. In his journal... (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... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...then 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... (full context)
Chapter 28
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...EEG video. She reclines on the bed, gets up, and haltingly walks to the door. Mom, off camera, asks a nurse which button is the call button. After Susannah gets back... (full context)
Chapter 29
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Dr. Russo arrives to speak to Mom about what the possible diagnoses are. After she lists a few, Mom pulls her into... (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... (full context)
Chapter 33
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
That evening, Stephen cooks pasta and Mom and Allen leave Stephen, Susannah, and Lindsey home alone. After dinner they sit outside. Lindsey... (full context)
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
When Mom gets the voicemail she's worried that Susannah is regressing. She calls Dr. Arslan, who instructs... (full context)
Chapter 36
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...out in Susannah's mind is the first time she saw James. When James arrives at Mom's house after finishing his first year at college, Susannah and Stephen are out. He busies... (full context)
Chapter 37
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Later that week, Mom takes Susannah shoe shopping in Manhattan. Fortunately, Susannah is too occupied to catch the exchange,... (full context)
Chapter 38
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...to arrive on the commuter train. One day, as she sits in the car with Mom waiting for the train, Mom exclaims that Stephen looks different. Susannah doesn't recognize him with... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Though Mom makes Susannah promise to only have one glass of wine, Susannah rolls her eyes and... (full context)
Chapter 39
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...be independent, as divvying out the pills is too difficult of a task for her. Mom makes sure Susannah takes them, which leads to fights. Susannah admits that during these months,... (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
Every two weeks, Mom, Dad, and Susannah have an appointment with Dr. Najjar. He and Dr. Arslan slowly reduce... (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
Mom is adamant that Susannah attend two evaluation sessions at a rehabilitation center. Susannah doesn't want... (full context)
Chapter 41
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Susannah's relationship with Mom suffers greatly after her release from the hospital. They'd been close before, but Susannah's dependence... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
As Mom watches Susannah try to remember, Mom puts her face in her hands and starts crying.... (full context)
Chapter 43
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...Susannah jumps at the opportunity to try to answer him fully. She has to ask Mom to repeat the name of the disease several times as she tries to search for... (full context)
Chapter 45
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...with Dr. 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... (full context)
Chapter 46
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
In late September, one of Dr. Najjar's assistants invites Mom and Susannah to attend Dr. Najjar's lecture on anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis at NYU. Susannah,... (full context)
Chapter 50
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...most of Susannah's friends and family agree that she's fully returned to normal. Allen and Mom decide to sell their home in Summit, and Susannah realizes she can't afford to live... (full context)