The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

A memoir of life in death.

This is a story that evolves slowly over the readers course of slow realization regarding an extensive, and traumatic brain injury. The landscape of pain the author conveys bears an implicit message of strength.

It is a fight for life and soul. And in the end, he wins. Jean Dominique - a man who feels as if his entire body is encased in a diving bell - unable to move except for his left eye - finds the freedom of fantasy to thought, and thought to word like a butterfly in a garden. A stroke survivor is indeed the same person on the inside. In this case. Locked inside.

Unable to speak, the first therapy step is to practice blowing a kiss. And in the quiet, he is either practicing alone or - in the moments when all have left on Sunday, simply waiting. And he writes - the waiting is hard. Sundays are a desert - the hospital with only a skeleton crew.

Real and substantive change occurred in the arc of recovery for Jean Dominique, as soon as he began to speak again. Early in the book, an old man visits him and tells him how he survived captivity in a dark cell in Beirut, Lebanon - a room with no windows - barely as large as the dimensions of a man - for four years.

He says, the important thing is to hold onto the things that make us human. And so, Jean Dominique does hold on. With the help of a therapist - they devise a means of communication - he blinks his eye as a letter is read aloud - and finally pieces together each word, letter by letter - the idea to do a 150 page book.

He undertakes a careful dialogue with his publisher, by whom he had won a book contract before his stroke - interestingly enough, to do a re-write of 'The Count of Monte Christo' with the main character as a woman, bent on revenge. Until the vengeance becomes all she is. Shocked, the publisher agrees to send someone to take his dictation.

The presence of that person, patiently working four hours a day to take transcription - cannot be reasonably found in the study of his recovery, we simply take for granted our ability to communicate, as part of who we are and what we do. However, that practice - day to day, month to month - became part of the story of Jean Dominique.

It is not often that a stroke survivor will have someone who can spend four hours a day with someone, each day. Day in . And day out. Perhaps someday software applications - like gaming addiction - can be welcomed into the lives of people who have no contact with the outside world, and become part of their recovery.

The human brain, when its nerves seek to re-establish primal or hardcoded brain tissue pathways like the hindbrain - and the cerebellum - regrow that capability as fast as growing hair. Undoubtedly there were days when Jean-Dominique struggled against the inability to move his hand, and the diving bell that descended upon his body felt oppressive and suffocating. The ability to express those feelings, and to interact with others - made that dark place , ultimately - a tomb from which the rock is rolled away - the body risen and the spirit free.

Jean Dominique Bauby remembers the moment at which everything broke apart - the specific moment his stroke overtook him (he was driving at the time, and had the foresight to pull over) .

"I pressed my forehead against the windowpane to gauge the temperature outside. Florence softly stroked the nape of my neck. Our farewells were brief, our lips scarcely brushing together. I am already running down stairs that smell of floor-polish. It will be the last of the smells of my past."

Florence is of course, not his wife. He has several Children by another woman and at the time he suffered his accident his first memory was not of his wife, but of Florence. His girlfriend.

Part of what makes a man, is his ability to love. This has been documented - men who are driven to succeed but at the same time, feel free of the desire to dominate their women - tend to heal faster. In 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' - we learn that no matter how disconnected we are - that sense of connection can be forged in writing and meditations and nearly impossible recovery is possible. And that drive of a man to be able to complete his life, and give it to his children - can extend beyond simple physical boundaries.