It’s not ironic that after being diagnosed with a congenital defect like Chiari Malformation my fascination with the brain and neurology overall has flourished. There aren’t many opportunities where I can watch the morning news without quickly being pushed to switch the channel to more important things like Elmo and Peppa Pig – my kids favorites.
However this week, this particular morning was different, I was able to watch Megan Kelly on Today interview Susannah Cahalan and Dr. Souhel Najjar – to say that this interview and as I watched the movie was both shocking and captivating is an understatement. I was so eager to know more about her story that I already watched the movie, I’m not one to do that, as I’d prefer to read the book first. If I can throw some names out there to capture more of your interest in this Netflix original, Chloë Grace Moretz plays Susannah Cahalan, Carrie-Ann Moss plays her mother, Jenny Slate her friend and co-worker and Tyler Perry plays Richard, her boss at the New York Post. Susannah Cahalan captures in her book ‘Brain on Fire’ in what she calls, her ‘month of madness.’ Without giving too much away so you can grab this New York Times bestselling book and/or watch the movie on Netflix, I’ll try to be brief on Susannah Cahalan’s journey after going misdiagnosed. She retells the events that took place prior to her diagnosis made by Dr. Souhel Najjarof of an auto-immune disease called Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, this is an acute form of brain inflammation that is potentially lethal but has a high probability of recovery with treatment. Although there’s a range of neuro-psychiatric symptoms some may include;
- cognitive impairment
- memory difficulties
- involuntary movements
- slowed or loss of ability to speak
- behavioral changes such as agitation
- loss of inhibition
- hallucinations (visual or auditory)
- paranoid thoughts
- severe anxiety
- sleep disruption including severe insomnia
- decreased level of consciousness – to the point of unresponsiveness, catatonia or coma
- weakness or numbness of part of the body
- loss of balance
- vision changes
Dr. Souhel Najjar was able to diagnose Susannah Cahalan using a test that involved her drawing a clock, this is a test that is normally given to people that are thought of having dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Susannah rather than drawing the clock’s face with the numbers going from numbers 1 through 12 going around. The disease caused her to draw all of the numbers 1 through 12 only on the right face of the clock. This happened because the right side of her brain, which regulates the left side of the body, was inflamed. Dr. Souhel Najjar helped her from being placed in a psychiatric ward because she was already thought to be losing her mind, to being bipolar and to having schizophrenia, to name a few. This doctors determination to finding Susannah again, helped her on her road to recovery and rebuild her career as an up-and-coming journalist at the New York Post.
As someone who went misdiagnosed for years with Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia , even after multiple testings, blood work, MRI’s and spinal taps, and still continuing to be misdiagnosed, this movie struck a cord. Chiari Malformation is found in only 1 in every 1,000 people and even after decompression, I am still living with symptoms, including memory difficulties, insomnia, weakness and numbness in the body, loss of balance to name a few. As Dr. Souhel Najjar states, only 10 percent of people with the disease found in Susannah Cahalan were properly diagnosed at that time. However, a better understanding of the disease and its symptoms has resulted in more frequent diagnosis and treatment today. This is such an inspiring journey of one woman’s long road to rebuilding her life after being misdiagnosed.