Next up for Assembly Series: Susannah Cahalan on her harrowing ordeal with a terrifying and deadly disease

​​WUSTL faculty join Cahalan to discuss Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
By Barbara Rea
On Monday, Feb. 18, Susannah Cahalan will visit her alma mater and give a presentation for the Assembly Series at 5 p.m. in Simon Hall’s May Auditorium on the Washi​ngton University in St. Louis Danforth Campus.

The event, free and open to the public, will focus on her new memoir, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. The book chronicles her ordeal with a rare condition. 

Cahalan was the first case of Anti-NMDA-Receptor Autoimmune Encephalitis to be discovered at New York University and she was the 217th person ever to be diagnosed.


​After opening with a reading and commentary, she will be joined on stage by WUSTL faculty for a discussion of her malady and ensuing experience.

The panelists are: Leonard Green, PhD, professor of psychology (also serving as moderator) and Rebecca Lester, PhD, professor of anthropology, both in Arts & Sciences; and Eugene Rubin, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine.

In 2009, things were going very well for Cahalan: she had a new job as a New York Post reporter, and she was in a committed relationship.

Then, out of the blue, everything changed. Without warning, her arms whipped straight out, she stiffened like a mummy, her eyes rolled back and foam spurted out of her mouth.

For the next month, Cahalan, a 2007 graduate in Arts & Sciences, would experience not only seizures, but also strange, terrifying hallucinations and paranoid fixations. At the hospital, her medical team was stumped.

Fortunately for Cahalan, the mystery finally was solved by a neurologist newly assigned to her case. 

During the long road to recovery, she turned her reporter’s eye on herself. The result is Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, her part-memoir, part-medical suspense story detailing her ordeal with a rare and terrifying disease.

While on campus, Cahalan also will give a reading for the Department of English in Arts & Sciences Tuesday, Feb. 19, and for the January Reading Program. 

For information on this event and other Assembly Series programs, visit assemblyseries.wustl.edu or call (314) 935-4620.
Kurt Mueller
Assistant Director of Assembly Series and Special Projects
(314) 935-4620
Barbara Rea
Director of Assembly Series and Special Projects
(314) 935-5297
Leonard Green
Professor of Psychology in Arts & Sciences
(314) 935-6534
Rebecca Lester
Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology in Arts and Sciences
(314) 935-9426