In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of French Elle,
the father of two young children, a 44-year-old man known and loved for his wit, his
style, and his impassioned approach to life. By the end of the year he was also the victim
of a rare kind of stroke to the brainstem. After 20 days in a coma, Bauby awoke into a
body which had all but stopped working: only his left eye functioned, allowing him to see
and, by blinking it, to make clear that his mind was unimpaired. Almost miraculously, he
was soon able to express himself in the richest detail: dictating a word at a time,
blinking to select each letter as the alphabet was recited to him slowly, over and over
again. In the same way, he was able eventually to compose this extraordinary book.
By turns wistful, mischievous, angry, and witty, Bauby bears witness to his determination to live as fully in his mind as he had been able to do in his body. He explains the joy, and deep sadness, of seeing his children and of hearing his aged father's voice on the phone. In magical sequences, he imagines traveling to other places and times and of lying next to the woman he loves. Fed only intravenously, he imagines preparing and tasting the full flavor of delectable dishes. Again and again he returns to an "inexhaustible reservoir of sensations," keeping in touch with himself and the life around him.
Jean-Dominique Bauby died two days after the French publication of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
This book is a lasting testament to his life.
Through the frayed curtain at my window, a wan glow announces the break of day. My heels
hurt, my head weighs a ton, and something like a giant invisible cocoon holds my whole
body prisoner. My room emerges slowly from the gloom. I linger over every item: photos of
loved ones, my children's drawings, posters, the little tin cyclist sent by a friend the
day before the Paris-Roubaix bike race, and the IV pole hanging over the bed where I have
been confined these past six months, like a hermit crab dug into his rock.
No need to wonder very long where I am, or to recall that the life I once knew was snuffed out Friday, the eighth of December, last year.
Up until then I had never even heard of the brain stem. I've since learned that it is an essential component of our internal computer, the inseparable link between the brain and the spinal cord. That day I was brutally introduced to this ...
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