I’m reading a great book right now called Brain on Fire. It was written by Susannah Calahan, who interviewed with Teri Gross before Christmas and the book’s publication. I heard about the book as I was driving home, and in fact, I think I’ve mentioned it on Facebook before. I’m talking about it again because I’ve come across a lot in my reading that I want to share.
So relatively little is known about the brain that Calahan went through many, many neurological exams that just dismissed her as a crazy alcoholic (who didn’t actually drink, BTW) before they found the real problem, called anti-ND MA-receptor encephalitis. The book is heart-wrenching, especially in the beginning, because she has no idea what is going on with her body, and her behavior deteriorates swiftly, much to the discomfort and anxiety of everyone around her.
There’s also research in the book as to how anti-NDMA-receptor encephalitis fits into the grand picture of schizophrenic research, which only served to deepen my belief that the physical and the emotional are inextricably interrelated. This is an important point when talking about mental health issues, particularly because they are such a hot-button issue right now.
Calahan has a way of explaining mental illness so that it makes sense… in fact, explaining how physical disease affects behavior and vice versa. For instance, have you ever looked at someone and thought they were drunk or high, only to find out later that they had been given the wrong medication, or worse, in the middle of a seizure?
Medicine excites me, whether it involves physical or mental health. Books by doctors and patients alike hold my attention. To me, it is one of the last great mysteries of the modern world… medicine is not science or an art. It is a time-honored method that clings steadfastly to both.
In the middle of the book, there is a great poem, aptly named “Intake Interview.” It is a series of questions posed by Franz Wright, author of Wheeling Motel. Instead of just publishing the poem, I thought it would be fun to answer the questions themselves.
What is today’s date?
Sat Jan 12 19:05:09 PST 2013 (I love “insert date” in word processors.)
Who is the President?
Ba rack Bamako
How great a danger do you pose, on a scale of one to ten?
Internally, I’m not a danger at all. There are large groups of people all over this country that disagree with me… Something about a “gay agenda.” My “gay agenda” is so boring that these people would immediately realize the error of their ways if they ever looked at it. We got the oil changed on the Saturn. Does that count?
What does “people who live in glass houses” mean?
That if you judge someone else, you are clearly going to be sorry because they are going to throw rocks at your house.
Every symphony is a suicide postponed, true or false?
For the composer or for the listener?I
Should each individual snowflake be held accountable for the avalanche?
Sure- you take 100% and divide it among every snowflake. That way, each snowflake is taking some personal responsibility without being devastated by an overwhelming amount of guilt.
Name five rivers.
What do you see yourself doing in ten minutes?
Since this is generally an oral quiz, I’m going to skip ahead to the part after I’be finished this post. It’s almost dinner. I’ll probably cook. It will be delicious, and you will be jealous you did’t come over to eat.
How about some lovely soft Thorazine music?
Does it come with Swedish massage?
If you could have half an hour with your father, what would you say to him?
I can’t think of anything to say to my father. When I think of him, my ability to speak is diminished to nothing. Those feelings are so deep that speaking seems entirely inadequate. I would just want to sit on his back deck, smoke a cigar, and hope that somehow companionable silence would suffice. I would’t be the person I am today without him, and not fifteen minutes goes by before I do something that makes me crack up and say, “I’m just like my dad.” Words are so gorgeous, so precious, that anything I could say would have the emotional punch of a World’s Greatest Dad coffee mug. It is my intention to write him something beautiful, something he can keep, but I’be been working on it for oh, ten years now, and it’s never been just right. I want it to be just right, because the work of being my dad is sometimes difficult. It would probably be easier for him if I was a little less shy, if I’d just come out of my shell a little more.
What should you do if I fell asleep?
Call HR! You’re sleeping at work!
Are you still following in [her] sic mastodon footsteps?
No. I stood too close and she stepped on me.
What is the moral of Mary Had a Little Lamb?
If you’re waiting for someone, you’re going to have to wait a long time.
If you love that person, you know they’re worth the wait.
If Mary hand’t loved the lamb as much as she did, the lamb would not have waited for her.
Unforeseen obstacles may separate you from the one you love, but if you both are in agreement, togetherness will come *someday.*
What about [her] sic Everest shadow?
Big with the metaphors, are we?
I will surely never climb Mt. Everest, and most of the time, I’m fine with it. But then I catch a memory in my mind, and I wish I could just get on a plane and go.
Would you compare your education to a disease so rare no one else has ever had it, or the deliberate extermination of indigenous populations?
“Have you took yo’ nerve medication this week? …Cause everybody be wondrin.’ -Shirley Q. Liquor
Which is more puzzling, the existence of suffering or its frequent absence?
Both are equally troubling. Life is conflict.
Should an odd number be sacrificed to the gods of the sky, and an even to those of the underworld, or vice versa?
An odd number of what? Potato chips? Chevrolets?
Would you visit a country where nobody talks?
I visit it all the time. It’s called “my apartment.” Of course, this is exclusively when Dana is at work.
What would you have done differently?
That’s a whole other book, dude.
Why are you here?
I am here to help people. I often marvel at the things that come out of my mouth and think, “that was really good advice. Why didn’t I take it?”