Tag: diving bell and the butterfly

One Blink at a Time

Bauby and Claude Mendibil, a freelance book editor.

One day in the winter of 1995 Jean-Dominique Bauby, a journalist and editor of Elle magazine, suffered a cerebrovascular seizure. When he awoke in hospital twenty days later his mind was intact yet he was paralysed from head to toe save only his left eyelid. Doctors diagnosed him with locked-in syndrome but they found a way for him to communicate by reading from a French language frequency-ordered alphabet until Bauby blinked on the letter he wanted. A word could sometimes take two minutes to transcribe.

At some point Bauby decided to write a book the only way he could, one blink at a time. It took him on average 200,000 blinks to write The Diving Bell and the Butterfly which, in the English translation, amounted to 143 pages. It’s astounding to imagine how much collective effort that took, more so on Bauby’s part.

It would be too simplistic to say that if a paralysed man can write a book with one eye why can’t we write a book (or anything) with our two working hands? With all due respect Bauby was an editor on one of the most popular magazines in France so I think it’s unlikely he doubted that his book would be published though he may have doubted whether he could finish it. If Bauby never pursued a career in journalism yet could still write well I think it’s likely publishers would have saw a market for his memoir. How many quadriplegics write memoirs with one eye?

If Bauby can write a book in the very worst of circumstances I’m sure we can do it too in less than ideal but more than acceptable conditions.