Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine in France when he suffered a stroke in 1995 that landed him in a coma. When he awoke 20 days later, he found himself in what he describes as “locked-in syndrome,” where he was completely paralyzed albeit some eye movement. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly chronicles Bauby’s daily life, from his thoughts about family and coping, to how people treat him and the strong memories of his past.
Early in my reading, I wondered how Bauby was able to write or even dictate the memoir to somebody. My questions were answered halfway through the book; the entire book was written by Bauby blinking his left eyelid using “partner assisted scanning,” in which the transcriber repeatedly presented a series of letters to Bauby, with Bauby blinking at the correct letter. The average word took two minutes to write, and, in all, the book was written by ~200,000 blinks.
More than anything, I was amazed by the complexity of the sentences Bauby was able to produce; the patience and memory it must have taken to compose the memoir is mind-blowing. It was fascinating to be in the mind of someone facing such a debilitating condition, and I read the book in one sitting.
Sadly, Bauby died from pneumonia just two days after publication. I highly recommend this quick read; if not for the content, one can at least appreciate its mode of composition.