12 Brain on Fire Characters You Need to Know

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Brain On Fire" by Susannah Cahalan. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Who are the key Brain on Fire characters? What did they contribute to Susannah’s story?

The Brain on Fire characters are either medical personnel or are part of Susannah’s personal life. Throughout her illness, she turned to doctors for answers and her support system to keep her fighting.

Read more about the important Brain on Fire characters.

Brain on Fire Characters: Medical Team Searching for Answers

Dr. Bailey, a famous neurologist, was the first specialist to work on Susannah’s case. Bailey conducts a routine neurological exam and declares everything is normal. He prescribes an MRI, which comes back normal. Dr. Bailey does another basic neurological exam and once again concludes that Susannah is “normal.”

Sarah Levin was the psychiatrist recommended by Dr. Bailey. Susannah makes the case for her being bipolar. Levin concludes that Susannah is experiencing manic and depressive states, and she prescribes a drug commonly used for mood and thought disorders. 

Dr. Siegel is a world-famous neurologist, and he assures Susannah’s mom that everything will be fine. Susannah’s mom clings to his words as if they’re a lifeline.  But Dr. Siegel later quits Susannah’s team.

Dr. Khan is another psychiatrist and he visits Susannah in the hospital. He describes Susannah as “disheveled” and “fidgety,” noting that her pajamas are “revealing.” Khan suggests that the team should be looking for neurological causes for Susannah’s psychosis.

Dr. Russo is a neurologist who brings up the name of a Dr. Souhel Najjar, the doctor to call when nothing makes sense. 

Dr. Souhel Najjar has a track record of solving a number of mystery cases, and Siegel has confessed that he’s stumped by Susannah’s case. Based on Siegel’s expert summary, Najjar suggests that Susannah might have viral encephalitis.

Outside of the Medical Team

Susannah’s mom and stepdad, Allen, who initially bring her to their home in New Jersey, where they can look after her. Allen has a schizophrenic brother. As Susannah’s condition deteriorates, Allen’s familiarity with mental illness will prove to be a huge asset.

Susannah’s dad and stepmom, Giselle, care for Susannah when she returns to Manhattan from New Jersey.  All goes well at first, but as Susannah and her dad head for the subway, Susannah’s paranoia returns. She’s convinced she isn’t safe in his care

Stephen is Susannah’s boyfriend, but they haven’t been dating long. Still, he makes a pact to stay by Susannah’s side as long as she needs him. He comes every day, bringing nature documentaries that relax Susannah without her knowing it.

Susannah’s coworker Angela is one of the first who she shares her symptoms with, telling her about the strange experience in Times Square. Angela suggests that Susannah see another doctor, and Susannah finally admits that something is happening to her but she doesn’t know what it is. Angela’s advice starts Susannah’s journey and makes Angela one of the key Brain on Fire characters.

12 Brain on Fire Characters You Need to Know

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Susannah Cahalan's "Brain On Fire" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Brain On Fire summary:

  • How a high-functioning reporter became virtually disabled within a matter of weeks
  • How the author Cahalan recovered through a lengthy process and pieced together what happened to her
  • How Cahalan's sickness reveals the many failures of the US healthcare system

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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