by Jean-Dominique Bauby, translated from the French by Jeremy Leggatt, $20, ISBN 0-375-40115-6, New York, NY, Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
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Memoirs about illness are many. An author who is thoughtful and perceptive can provide the physician with extraordinary insights into the disease process and its effects on the persona. When the author is also a professional writer, the document becomes compelling. If you have any contact with patients with locked-in syndrome, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is such a compelling story.
Locked-in patients have a central nervous system lesion in the high cord or brainstem. They cannot speak, breathe on their own, or move, yet they can see, hear, and think. Jean-Dominique Bauby's lesion was in the brainstem. He could communicate because he retained voluntary control over his left eyelid. An amanuensis sat by his bed and read through the alphabet. Bauby would blink at the desired letter. With infinite patience, he composed this book.
Bauby was 43 at the time of his stroke. He was editor-in-chief
Sodeman WA. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. JAMA. 1997;278(19):1627-1628. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550190097057