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The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly Paperback – January 7, 2008
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`The most remarkable memoir of our time.' Cynthia Ozick `Read this book and fall back in love with life.' Edmund White `A staggering piece of work. It represents an almost inconceivable act of generosity, the gift of the mind and the spirit for which writing was designed.' A. L. Kennedy `One of the great books of the century.' Financial Times `Everyone in the country should own at least one copy.' Guardian `We listen, because what he has to say goes to the core of what it means to be human.' Robert McCrum, Observer `The most extraordinary book of the year.' Daily Telegraph 'Life-enhancing and devastating in equal measure - everyone should read it.' Gloss magazine
About the Author
Jean-Dominique Bauby was born in Paris in 1952. He was the editor-in-chief of French `Elle'. In 1996 he set up ALIS (Association du Locked-In Syndrome). He died on 9 March 1997.
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The 8th of December 1995 began as a relatively unremarkable day for Jean-Dominique Bauby, Editor of Elle magazine in France. That evening, Jean-Dominique would endure a colossal cerebrovascular accident that would leave him with locked in syndrome, resulting in the inability to move and speak. Using a ghostwriter, Claude Mendibil, and only the blinking of his left eye, Bauby gives the reader a glimpse into his current life and thoughts as well as overlooked memories form his past. Jean-Dominique’s use of a diving bell and a butterfly encompass his take on his new life, restricted in body but free in mind to take flight to new and old places. His descriptive telling of the experiences, thoughts and memories Bauby has draws the reader in and reminds us to cherish even the most mundane of experiences. The following paragraphs will highlight some of his experiences in the chapters.
Prologue: The initial introduction to Jean-Dominique’s waking life. The pain he experiences upon waking without the ability to move or sense whether he is hot or cold. It is here the reader first understands what lock in syndrome is and how while it is quite awful, he is able to escape reality by exploring in his mind and creating vivid scenes as well as re-experience memories.
The Wheelchair: A number of white-coated professionals place him in a wheelchair for the first time. He still unsure exactly what his situation is and remains the same after his short lived and unceremonious wheel chair experience when he is left alone once again. This should an eye opener for all professionals that while we are busy individuals we must take time to be present with our patients.
Prayer: This chapter discusses Bauby’s realization of needed to achieve smaller goals rather than grandiose plans. In his mind and prayers, he assigns each spirit a specific healing task that brings a small comfort but little reprieve.
The Alphabet: Bauby uses the French alphabet ordered by frequency to communicate. He discusses the simple yet tedious way he converses with others as well as the differences in communication partners that can be both fatiguing and enjoyable.
Tourists: Bauby describes the rehabilitation room, a place where individuals of various levels of ability work on their recovery. During a particular exercise, he expresses feeling like a statue in a room full of tourists, who cannot acknowledge him.
Guardian Angel: Sandrine, his speech therapist and guardian angel, returned to him the ability to communicate and remain connected with others. Unfortunately, we are also told that many of his caretakers fail to use this communication mode resulting frustrating experiences.
The Photo: This chapter reminisces about his last time spent with his father, one where he was the caretaker for his fail elderly father, prior to the stroke. The contrast between his positions then and now points out how fast situations can change for any one of us.
Voice Offstage and My Lucky Day: Here Jean-Dominique briefly discusses his fears and discontent with medical professionals as well as his own body.
Through a Glass, Darkly: It is Father’s Day, and Jean Dominique writes of the tender love of his children and they way they are have grown into personalities that are influenced by their lives.
Paris: A description of his how his views and feelings towards the city of Paris, Bauby is reminded during his trips to Paris that the city has continued to bustle and time has gone on without him.
The Vegetable: This chapter marks 6 months since the dramatic shift in his life; he now sends monthly letters to family and friends. He receives many in return and feels proud to be able to exert his unwillingness to be called a vegetable, if even not in his presence.
Twenty to One: A now painful memory of a trip to the racetrack with an old friend, where conversation, enjoyment, food and drink resulted in the loss of opportunity to win 20:1 odds on a particular racehorse, one who’s name he struggles to remember. This chapter is full of regret of for opportunities not seized but also of opportunities he will never again experience.
The Duck Hunt: The stroke left him with hearing problems that make everyday noises sometimes unbearable, in this case the incessant quacking of a nearby patient’s movement detection device. He retreats to his mind and listen to butterflies to escape the unbearable noise.
Sunday: His least favourite day of the week. The hospital becomes a ghost town with only minimal staff and visitors. This day is often lonely, particularly since he is unable to adjust the television or read a book by himself.
The Ladies of Hong Kong: Here he describes his mind’s travels from places he a been a number times to others like Hong Kong, where fate has always disallowed him. He also recalls a memory of a friend who was captured and held by the Hezbollah for years and ponders the fact that he now feels imprisoned much as his friend was.
“A Day in the Life”: This second to last chapter is where the read will at least read about the day when his life was forever changed. His description of the day as well as the songs on the radio give the impression that he had no idea what was to come.
Season of Renewal: This final chapter describes some of his progress, his joy of family time, and his acknowledgement of his new life.
My only criticism is that while Jean-Dominique’s descriptions are both eloquent and vivid enough to paint a picture of his experiences, each chapter feels separate from the next, leaving the reader to try and piece together the bigger picture. This does not overly distract from the enormity of the task Bauby completed writing his memoir only blinking his left eye.
Finally, any individual who works in the medical setting will find insight both into patient’s lives and how they can improve their experiences in the smallest of ways. This memoir may also benefit those who have loved ones who have experienced the devastation a stroke can cause by giving them a small glimpse into the mind of someone who is no longer able to communicate as they once were. This book also gives hope that though life may be permanently altered by terrible events, there can be renewal and new joy in the unexpected.
I don't have many phobias. That said, the notion that I am trapped in my body with only one blinking eye to communicate ranks right up there. I think I've had nightmares about this sort of thing....being buried alive because no one realizes you are conscious inside your body? Freak. Me. Out. So not only does someone realize that Bauby is in there but in there and communicating....whoa. As if that wasn't enough, the dude dictates this book, in its entirety, by blinking his eye. HELLO. Let that thought sink in a moment. Each letter took how many blinks before the right letter was found?!? The man must have stayed awake all night composing in his head for the next day's blinkfest.
The book Bauby composed is a thing of beauty. It will be read and reread many, many times. What an amazing tribute. I feel honored to have read what he wrote. .
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His transformation was immediate, unexpected, and terrifying.Read more
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Original Publishing: S.A.Read more