Tuesday, October 07, 2008

"I must have butterfly hearing"

A Locked-in-syndrome is a rare medical condition in which the patient goes completely paralyzed and yet with an intact functioning of the brain, the patient feels the world just as any else would, but he/she would be unable to move a single limb or utter a sound of any sort. According to the medics, the locked-in-syndrome is "the closest thing to being buried alive".

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is an autobiography by Jean Dominique Bauby, the chief editor of the French magazine Elle, who suffered a stroke in 1995 and was diagnosed with a locked-in-syndrome following a coma. Bauby was left completely paralyzed on a hospital bed for the last two years of his life with his left eye his one and only means of communication with the outside world. And it was this very left eye of his, which reflected one of the best autobiographies you would ever read in your whole life. Yes indeed: with the help of a speech therapist Bauby could write this book by blinks of his left eye and signalling the alphabets.

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is the diary of a man who was indeed “buried alive”, and that is why most readers would expect this book to be a dismal elegy of a man who probably wishes to die every second of his vegetable-life. However, it is not so. Not at all. “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is the book which makes you appreciate life fully and celebrate its every minute. This book simply makes you want to take in as much of life as possible. Although Jean Dominique Bauby had, very rightfully so, his moments of depression, nostalgia, and unbearable agony, he was at the end of the day so very full of life force.

He narrates the delightful events of his past life in a very nostalgic tone at times “like a story teller exhuming the legends of a lost civilization,” (86) and he is all filled with regret and remorse of why he did not take in as much of life as he could have. He feels “...remorse for lost opportunities... the women we were unable to live, the chances we failed to seize, the moments of happiness we allowed to drift away.” (94)

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is book that we should read to learn that life is beautiful and worthy of living for, to learn the lesson that we never tend to learn: to appreciate health and happiness. Take your time and read the following passage from the book. This is written by a man who, I think sort of literally, is “buried alive” but does not give up to fly the butterfly of his mind:

In my dreams “I am occasionally a Formula one driver. That mysterious white racer without a brand name, a number, or commercial advertisements is me. Stretched out on my bed – I mean, in my cockpit – I hurl myself into the corners, my head, weighed down by the helmet, wrenched painfully by the gravitational pull. I have also been cast as a soldier in a TV series, turned back the invading Arabs at Poitiers, helped Napoleon to victory, and survived Verdun. Since I have just been wounded in the D-day landings, I cannot swear that I will join the airdrop into Dien Bien Phu. Under the physical therapist’s gaze, I am a Tour de France long shot on the verge of pulling off a record-setting victory. Success soothes my aching muscles. I am a phenomenal downhill skier. I can still hear the roar of the crowd on the slope and the singing of the wind in my ears. I was miles ahead of the favourites. I swear!” (117)

I do recommend this very touching and memorable short autobiography to you, and in the end I would like to dedicate the following lovely two passage from “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” to my friends who are reading this review. In the first extract Jean Dominique is glorifying the value of friendship and friends while talking about the letters he receives from his friends regularly:

“.... I hoard all these letters like treasure. One day I hope to fasten them end to end in a half-mile streamer, to float in the wind like a banner raised to the glory of friendship. It will keep the vultures at bay.” (84)

“... when blessed silence returns, I can listen to the butterflies that flutter inside my head. To hear them, one must be calm and pay close attention, for the wing-beats are barely audible. Loud breathing is enough to drown them out. This is astonishing: my hearing does not improve, yet I hear them better and better. I must have butterfly hearing.” (97)

Jean Dominique Bauby died in March 1997, two days after the publication of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly".


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