Chapters 8–14

In this memoir, journalist Susannah Cahalan recounts her battle with a mysterious and terrifying neurological illness at the age of 24.

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Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. seizure
    a sudden attack of a disease, often characterized by spasms
    Finally, he jumped into action—though he’d never seen a seizure before, he knew what to do.
  2. lucidity
    a clear state of mind
    Though I would have moments of lucidity over the coming weeks, I would never again be the same person.
  3. neuron
    a cell that is specialized to conduct nerve impulses
    The healthy brain is a symphony of 100 billion neurons, the actions of each individual brain cell harmonizing into a whole that enables thoughts, movements, memories, or even just a sneeze.
  4. dissonant
    harmonically unresolved
    But it takes only one dissonant instrument to mar the cohesion of a symphony.
  5. cacophonous
    having an unpleasant sound
    When neurons begin to play nonstop, out of tune, and all at once because of disease, trauma, tumor, lack of sleep, or even alcohol withdrawal, the cacophonous result can be a seizure.
  6. ramification
    a consequence, especially one that causes complications
    The long-term ramifications of untreated seizures can include cognitive defects and even death.
  7. cognitive
    relating to or involving the mental process of knowing
    The long-term ramifications of untreated seizures can include cognitive defects and even death.
  8. incensed
    angered at something unjust or wrong
    I was too incensed to be terrified, and so I lashed out.
  9. machination
    a crafty and involved plot to achieve your ends
    I was a slave to the machinations of my aberrant brain.
  10. imperious
    having or showing arrogant superiority
    Stephen held my hand, looking frightened by the imperiousness in my voice.
  11. interminable
    tiresomely long; seemingly without end
    He stepped into the hallway and waited two interminably long rings before Allen, my stepfather, picked up the phone.
  12. palpable
    capable of being perceived
    First thing the next morning, while Allen scouted the street for parking, my mom arrived at my apartment door looking sharp, as always. Her frenetic energy, however, was palpable.
  13. gesticulate
    show, express, or direct through movement
    He was animated with his closest loved ones, gesticulating wildly with his hands and laughing a contagious guffaw; with outsiders, he could be quiet and aloof, to the point of seeming rude.
  14. aloof
    remote in manner
    He was animated with his closest loved ones, gesticulating wildly with his hands and laughing a contagious guffaw; with outsiders, he could be quiet and aloof, to the point of seeming rude.
  15. cull
    look for and gather
    Before my seizure, he and my mom had developed a theory culled from the few things that they knew about my month of strange behavior.
  16. affluent
    having an abundant supply of money or possessions of value
    Summit, named one of the best places to live in America by Money magazine, is an affluent suburb twenty miles from Manhattan, a haven for WASPs and Wall Street bankers who congregate at the many country clubs within its six square miles.
  17. bipolar
    of or relating to manic depressive illness
    “She thinks it’s possible that you’re having a manic episode and that maybe you have bipolar disorder. Whatever it is, you should see a psychiatrist,” she suggested.
  18. vice
    moral weakness
    I didn’t understand that doctors usually doubled—even tripled—such numbers because patients often lie about their vices.
  19. adamant
    impervious to pleas, persuasion, requests, or reason
    James was adamant. “No way is Susannah an alcoholic.”
  20. epiphany
    an inspiration or divine manifestation
    Later that next night, I had an epiphany. Forget bipolar disorder: it was the antiseizure medication Keppra.
  21. canter
    go at a smooth three-beat gait, of horses
    I left once more, cantering from the family room to the kitchen and then back.
  22. semblance
    an outward appearance that is deliberately misleading
    He had been debriefed by my family about my deteriorating behavior and was on high alert, but he knew that it was important for me to leave the house (because of the threat of seizures, I could not drive a car) and maintain some semblance of an adult life.
  23. dingy
    gloomy or depressing
    Stephen drove me to nearby Madison, to a dingy bar called Poor Herbie’s where there was no wait.
  24. congeal
    solidify, thicken, or come together
    When the food came, I could focus only on the greasy french dressing congealing on Stephen’s corned beef sandwich.
  25. timbre
    the distinctive property of a complex sound
    “Susannah,” Stephen said in a level tone, a timbre I had never before heard from him.
  26. sordid
    foul and run-down and repulsive
    When I opened my eyes again, we had exited the Holland Tunnel and were entering Chinatown, with its sidewalk fish, swarms of tourists, and fake designer bag salesmen. The whole sordid scene disgusted me.
  27. willful
    habitually disposed to disobedience and opposition
    I could be willful, but he had never seen me be rude.
  28. ruse
    a deceptive maneuver, especially to avoid capture
    This was all a ruse, set up to punish me for my bad behavior and tell me that I’m suddenly cured.
  29. anteroom
    a large entrance or reception area
    My father’s house is an ode to American wars, filled with antiques and memorabilia spanning the Revolutionary War to World War II. He even calls one anteroom that separates the den from the living room the “war room.”
  30. brandish
    move or swing back and forth
    My mother brandished a piece of red-lined paper that she had prepared.
Created on April 15, 2020 (updated April 15, 2020)

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