Book Club Discussion Prompts: Brain On Fire

Friday, January 2, 2015

In December, my book club read "Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness" by Susannah Cahalan.  I was really looking forward to reading this one, and found it so engrossing I finished it in a day!  It was terrifying, unbelievable, and fascinating.  That this book even exists at all, in spite of all the hurdles this story faced in getting to the page, is a testament to the fact that the author was incredibly determined to share her story so that others may get the help they need.  And I loved how the author took a journalistic approach to writing her memoir.  Of course, if you read the book, you'll know why she made that choice.   

What did you think of it?  

Below, find some discussion prompts for you to use with your own book club.  WARNING: Spoilers after the jump! 

And for January, my book club is reading...   

"The Shack" by WM Paul Young.



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1.) When the story first began, what were you expecting Susannah to reveal lead to her month of madness?  How did that change from when you were halfway through the book?  From when you finished?

2.) Have you ever had a physician not take your ailment seriously?  Did you relate to Susannah's frustration when she recounted the way in which Dr. Bailey attributed her concerns to partying too much and being overworked?  Do you think we should re-evaluate the way doctors and patients interact as a whole?  Do you think this would help to diagnose patients who need serious help sooner?   

3.) At the end of the book we find out that Susannah was suffering from an autoimmune disease that made her body attack her brain.  This disease accounted for all of her symptoms: from seizures, to personality changes, memory loss, loss of her cognitive abilities, etc.   We also learned that new information is being discovered about autoimmune diseases like the one Susannah suffered from every day, and that it may offer clues into deciphering crucial differences between mental vs. neurological diseases.  What do you think about these new scientific developments?  Did it make you consider those who appear to suffer from mental illness in a different light?  Did it make you think medicine should reconsider the separation of psychology and neurology?  

4.) Did you enjoy the journalistic approach Susannah took in order to tell her story?  Were you shocked when she revealed that she used the tapes from the monitors over her bed to piece together parts of what had happened to her, because she has no memory of the events?  

5.) What do you think the title, "Brain on Fire" represents?  What was your favorite quote from the beginning of each part in the book, and why?  

6.) Susannah attributes her diagnosis and successful recovery to the powerful support of her parents, boyfriend, friends, and co-workers just as much as her doctors.  What did you find to be the most uplifting part of this aspect of the story?  What did you think of her father's diary of the events?  

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