Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book 6 - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I read "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" by Jean-Dominique Bauby as it was listed as a recommendation at the end of "Girlfriend in a Coma". It is a memoir of sorts written by the French editor of Elle magazine who suffers a stroke and then has a condition called "Locked in Syndrome". He has some movement ability with his head and he is able to communicate using his left eye. In order to communicate people use a chart of letters ordered in frequency of their usage in the French language. He still does have his hearing, although sometimes certain sounds do bombard his hearing. 

The memoir itself is a series of vignettes going back and forth between his time in the hospital and his life before. He has a gift for the written word, and he seems to find beauty in his surroundings wherever he goes. He takes great joy in being wheeled up to a patio where he sees himself as a director, summoning clouds and birds. 

Overall it is heartbreaking to empathize with this gentleman, to be trapped inside your own body while your mind remains intact. He seems to make the most of it as best he can. He takes great journeys inside his mind, travels back into his memories. He can no longer eat, but he has great banquets in fantasy. He finds that most of his caregivers are very considerate and courteous, but there are always those who turn off his soccer match right in the middle or leave him in an uncomfortable position and ignore his blinking pleas.

It is amazing what people can accomplish. According to wikipedia, this book took around 20,000 blinks to write. Bauby indicates that he would be constantly editing what he would want to write in his mind before the transcriber would arrive so that what landed on the page was perfect. Constantly throughout I kept thinking back to the laborious task that it must have been to get this book written and it was well worth it and it is a wonderful legacy that he has left for us all.

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