Monday, February 3, 2014

A Review of 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' by Jean-Dominique Bauby

"In December 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, the 43-year-old editor of French Elle, suffered a massive stroke that left him completely and permanently paralyzed, a victim of 'locked in syndrome.'  Once known for his gregariousness and wit, Bauby now finds himself imprisoned in an inert body, able to communicate only by blinking his left eye.  The miracle is that in doing so he was able to compose this stunningly eloquent memoir.

In a voice that is by turns wistful and mischievous, angry and sardonic, Bauby gives us a celebration of the liberating power of consciousness: what is is like to spend a day with his children, to imagine lying in bed beside his wife, to conjure up the flavor of delectable meals even as he is fed through a tube.  Most of all, this triumphant book lets us witness an indomitable spirit and share in the pure joy of its own survival."

I hope that I never have to experience what it would be like to be locked inside my own body.  At times, Bauby described the experience in such a freeing way.  You're an observer, you have your thoughts to keep you company-- memories of really good food you had that one time you traveled to New York or somewhere else around the world.  In a way, you get to travel and experience every day.  But then you return to the starkness of the situation.  You can't move your limbs, you can't speak any more, your communication skills are severely compromised and a new code needs to be made up so that you can still interact with others.  You need help with everything that keeps you alive.

While Bauby does seem to become distressed by the fact that he is not how he used to be, he doesn't let it bother him all the time.  Speech therapy is like being in the Olympics-- a great new accomplishment every time you go through it.  He finds enjoyment in some of the physical therapy and getting sponge baths.

Despite the terrible situation that Bauby finds himself in, it makes me really happy that even in dire conditions like the life he's living, he still manages to find reasons to stay alive and keep himself busy throughout the day.  It kind of puts our own lives in perspective.  If there's a day that we're not sure we can make it through for one reason or another, we can know that it's possible.  We have active imaginations, air in our lungs, and a brand new day ahead of us.  Isn't that enough sometimes?

This was a very eye-opening read.  I'm very happy that I picked it up.  Perhaps I'll have to check out the movie soon (somehow... I'm not sure where to find it right now).

I give 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly':
Thanks for Reading!


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