Chapters 25–34

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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definitions & notes only words
  1. leaden
    (of movement) slow and laborious
    I do this so leadenly that it looks like stop-motion animation.
  2. convulsion
    violent uncontrollable contractions of muscles
    She hooked me up to a two-liter oxygen machine that can help with cardiac issues and convulsions.
  3. colloquial
    characteristic of informal spoken language or conversation
    Encephalitis, one neurologist would eventually explain, colloquially meant “bad brain,” or the inflammation of the brain due to a host of causes.
  4. gait
    a person's manner of walking
    He had a measured gait and a slight slope to his back that made his head fall a few inches in front of his body, most likely due to the hours he spent hunched over a microscope.
  5. paucity
    an insufficient quantity or number
    I looked forward, showing no emotion, saying nothing, not blinking. He wrote down “ paucity of eye blinking.”
  6. ataxia
    inability to coordinate voluntary muscle movements
    I angled toward my left side—Najjar noticed I was showing signs of ataxia, a lack of coordinated movement.
  7. dysgraphia
    a condition characterized by impaired ability to write
    I outlined the circle once, twice, and then three times, an act called perseverative dysgraphia, a disorder in which a patient draws and redraws lines or letters.
  8. biopsy
    the removal and examination of tissue from a living body
    The only way to answer these questions was to do a brain biopsy, and he wasn’t sure my parents would agree to one.
  9. mull
    reflect deeply on a subject
    As he mulled this over, he pulled at his mustache absentmindedly and paced around the room.
  10. agnostic
    of or pertaining to a religious orientation of doubt
    My mom, a no-nonsense agnostic Jewish girl from the Bronx, now swears she felt the presence of God.
  11. estrangement
    separation resulting from hostility
    Setting aside years of betrayal, emotional estrangement, and petty fights, they briefly exchanged a hug and a few quiet tears.
  12. aperture
    a usually small man-made opening
    Grasping a high-speed drill in his hands like a skillful carpenter, he pressed it down on the skull, making a “burr hole,” or a 1-centimeter-diameter aperture through the bone of the skull.
  13. graft
    the act of transplanting something onto something else
    He then very carefully stitched a dura graft onto the outer layer of the brain, suturing it together, and then reattached the bone plate.
  14. brusque
    rudely abrupt or blunt in speech or manner
    “Here,” a brusque nurse says, shoving a water-soaked sponge into my mouth.
  15. catheter
    a thin flexible tube inserted into the body
    The plasma exchange was done through a catheter inserted directly into my neck.
  16. aphasia
    inability to use language because of a brain lesion
    She nodded: this was a typical response for people suffering from aphasia, a language impairment related to brain injury.
  17. painstaking
    characterized by extreme care and great effort
    When she asked me to write my name, I painstakingly drew out an “S,” tracing the letter multiple times before moving on to the “U,” where I did the same.
  18. elicit
    call forth, as an emotion, feeling, or response
    To see a desk, for example, first we see lines that come together at angles, then color, then contrast, then depth; all of that information goes into the memory bank, which labels it with a word and, depending on the object, an emotion (to a journalist, a desk might elicit guilty feelings about missed deadlines, for example).
  19. barrage
    the rapid and continuous delivery of communication
    “I’m sorry,” he interrupted the barrage.
  20. innocuous
    not injurious to physical or mental health
    For 70 percent of patients, the disorder begins innocuously, with normal flulike symptoms: headaches, fever, nausea, and vomiting, though it’s unclear if patients initially contract a virus related to the disease or if these symptoms are a result of the disease itself.
  21. vacillate
    move or sway in a rising and falling or wavelike pattern
    Patients also often develop autonomic symptoms, she continued: blood pressure and heart rate that vacillate between too high and too low—again, just like my case.
  22. benign
    not dangerous to health; not recurrent or progressive
    The only good news is that they are usually—but not always— benign.
  23. nascent
    being born or beginning
    The young man leading the group of nascent MDs introduced my case as if I weren’t in the room.
  24. histrionics
    a deliberate display of emotion for effect
    She was not prone to histrionics and hardly ever cried.
  25. stoic
    seeming unaffected by pleasure or pain; impassive
    She had been so stoic throughout the visit, never once letting on how agonizing the stay had been for her, but she couldn’t contain herself anymore.
Created on April 15, 2020 (updated April 15, 2020)

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