A young journalist’s descent into her own baffling medical mystery.
In her debut memoir, New York Post reporter Cahalan recounts her struggle to understand an unremembered month lost to illness. Cobbled together from interviews, medical records, notebooks, journals and video footage, the author conjures the traumatic memories of her harrowing ordeal. What began as numbness in her hands and feet soon grew into something more serious, climaxing in a terrifying seizure witnessed by her boyfriend. “My arms suddenly whipped straight out in front of me, like a mummy,” she writes, “as my eyes rolled back and my body stiffened….Blood and foam began to spurt out of my mouth through clenched teeth.” The mystery thickened as doctors struggled to agree on a diagnosis. While the uncertainty proved maddening for her family members, however, it was also what bonded them together. Cahalan’s estranged parents, in particular, found a common purpose as a result of their daughter’s plight, putting her health before old hardships. After numerous tests revealed nothing, an observed increase of white blood cells in her cerebrospinal fluid eventually clued in medical professionals. Diagnosed with anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis—a rare autoimmune disease with a cure—Cahalan and her family embarked on the long, hard road to recovery. Through the lonesomeness of her illness, a community emerged, the members of which were dedicated to returning the author to her former life as a beloved daughter, sister, lover and friend.
A valiant attempt to recount a mostly forgotten experience, though the many questions that remain may prove frustrating to some readers.