Susannah Cahalan’s story is bizarre, but it is true. The 24-year-old was healthy and working as a journalist when she started noticing that something was wrong.
At first, she thought she had bedbugs, but the exterminator didn’t find anything. Susannah then began to feel lethargic and stopped going to work. She continued to get paranoid with every passing day and she also experienced hallucinations. After a while, she started having seizures, which was when she was taken to the hospital.
Susannah’s condition worsened in the hospital, she became aggressive and violent towards the nurses. She also tried to escape and became violent with her relatives as well. The doctors suggested to take her to the psychiatric ward, since they suspected the woman was experiencing a nervous breakdown.
But there was only one doctor named Dr. Souhel Najjar, who drew the right conclusions.
Dr. Najjar tested her by asking her to draw a clock. As he studied the results, he realized that his assumptions were true – Susannah’s “madness” had a physical cause.
Susannah’s clock had all of the numbers on the right side, which indicated a brain damage. After further investigation, Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis was diagnosed. It is an immune disorder, where antibodies produced by the immune system attack the brain. If not for Dr. Najjar’s resources, Susannah would have probably fallen into a coma and died.
Susannah remained in the hospital for a month, but when she thinks back to this time, she realizes how unreal it all felt.
“Because I literally don’t remember the good part of the month that I was in the hospital, I had to rely on medical records, interviews with doctors, interviews with my family, interviews with my boyfriend, you know, pretty much, I had to just recreate that time using the skills of a journalist.”
Susannah reflects on her experience in an interview.
It’s crazy how narrow the line between normality and insanity can be.