Friday, July 4, 2014

A Medical Story from Missing Memories

Do our memories need to be intact to tell a medical memoir? 
What does it mean to investigate and report on one's own health story?

These are questions for consideration when the book author begins her public talk by first warning the audience not to trust anything she's about to say, for she holds almost nil memories of the episode in her life she will speak of. Perhaps it's good fortune that this particular writer is a journalist by trade, bringing the necessary skills to research a medical case of chaos, mental derangement and multiple miss-diagnoses. Despite the case being her own, there is a certain level of detachment, from having had to rely almost entirely on interviews with those who cared for her, medical records, and hospital video footage from time spent on the epilepsy floor, to build her personal story.

With a beam of inspiration to writers and potential writers who have untold medical stories, the author beautifully describes how this unique writing process contributed to her recovery from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis:
“Going through it, I think re-living it, well living it, really living it for the first time, and understanding it, understanding the science, that for me was so empowering…all of a sudden I had ownership over this thing that happened to me and  putting it down on paper it became my story.”

The journalist and author is Susannah Cahalan, talking at the Narrative Medicine Rounds*, from Columbia University Medical Center, about her book, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. From listening to the freely available podcast, you'll certainly learn about anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a disease that was only very recently officially categorized and named, but the talk also has much to do about writing and storytelling. Cahalan's own website also provides readers a place to share their own stories.
-post by Emma Rooney

*The Narrative Medicine Rounds are made available free of charge on iTunes U.     

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