Analyzing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly The poignant story of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s life begins in December 1995, when he finds himself in a hospital, recovering from a severe coma, both paralyzed from head to toe and unable to speak. Though Bauby’s mind is still intellectually intact, he is diagnosed with what most people call today, “locked-in-syndrome”. Through his powerful words, Bauby, the author and narrator of this story, takes us on a journey filled with pain, loss and courage.
I believe that though Bauby did indeed have a disability, he only fit into two of the three definitions categorized as having a disability; these being, function barriers (impairments), activity barriers (Disabilities) and participation barriers (Handicap). Examples of Impairment/ Function Barriers: Bauby’s life condition fits into the category of having an impairment, or a functional barrier because a function barrier is defined as “Any loss of abnormality of psychological, or anatomical structure or function. (Rouse, 2015) In other words, one is considered to be disabled when they lack an essential part of the body, or when the body part does not function properly. We see evidence of this in the sentence, “… You survive, but you survive with what is so aptly known as “locked-in syndrome”. Paralyzed from head to toe, the patient, his mind in tact, is imprisoned in his own body, unable to speak or move. In my case, blinking my left eye is my only means of communication... ” (Bauby, 1997, pp. 4) Here, we see how severe Bauby’s condition is, for the only thing that he can move is his left eye.
Not being able to walk, to talk, or even move his fingers, these are all function barriers that make it difficult for the patient to be a part of society. Therefore, Bauby invents a beautiful metaphor to describe the trapped up emotions in his head in the following paragraph, “Two attendants seized me by the shoulders and feet, lifted me off the bed, and dumped me unceremoniously into the wheelchair. I had graduated from being a patient whose prognosis was uncertain to an uncertain quadriplegic… ” (Bauby, 1997, pp. ) From this memoir, he reveals to the readers the constant battles that he faces every day. Also, I find it intriguing how Bauby uses the word “dumped” to depict the careless way he was put into the wheelchair, because it shows how, once a quadriplegic, he was forced to relinquish his pride and independence. It also shows the barriers between Bauby as a man and society, for because he is unable to communicate his needs and emotions there is a disconnect between the two. Examples of Disability/ Activity Barriers:
Still in his young forties, Bauby not only lost the physical ability to move and feel objects but in addition to his functional barriers, he had in a sense, lost the privilege of being a father, a friend and a husband, for all he could do is imagine himself playing and being with his family. Bauby expresses his sorrow and frustration clearly, in the sentence,”… I am torn between joy at seeing them living, moving, laughing, or crying for a few hours, and fear that the sight of all these sufferings… ” (Bauby, 1997, pp. 7)
Although conflicted between feeling gratefulness and bitterness, Bauby reveals his fear of never being the father his kids need him to be, or the man his wife needs. It is during these moments where Bauby comes to miss the simple and mundane experiences of life, such as being able to play board games with your son or as he states, being able to complete the simple task of swallowing one’s saliva. “… I would be the happiest of men if I could just swallow the overflow of saliva that endlessly floods my mouth… ” (Bauby, 1997, pp. 2)
These factors give proof that Bauby has activity barriers in his life that hinder him from doing everyday tasks including smiling, or even eating a meal. In this memoir he mentions, “… A domestic event as commonplace as washing can trigger the most varied emotions, or eating. ” (Bauby, 1997, pp. 16) The facts that JeanDominique Bauby cannot eat normally, that is without the help of a gastric tube, or breathe naturally without a respirator, (Bauby, 1997, pp. 12) are examples that point towards the characteristics of a disabled patient.
Examples of Handicap/ Participation Barriers: Although Bauby’s condition is classified as a disability, I however, do not believe that his condition includes participation barriers or characteristics of a handicap. For while his body does not function properly, and though he is not able to complete small tasks such as taking a shower etc. , Bauby’s mental capacity and strength is what astonishes his readers. In addition, the fact that he is able to analyze and add humor in his stories gives more evidence to believe that he is not a handicap.
We see an example of this when Bauby and other patients are taken into a clinic to have some tests done, he instantly acknowledges the uncomfortable and judgemental glares of the other patients in the room. Due to his condition, these “tourists”, as he so eloquently calls them, seem to label Bauby as an outcast. “Below, people laugh, joke, call out. I would like to be part of all this hilarity, but as soon as I direct my one eye toward them, the young man... nd the homeless man turn away, feeling the sudden need to study the ceiling smoke detector. (Bauby, 1997, pp. 33) Although he cannot speak or move, we see how in tact Bauby’s mind is because he even goes further to mock the other patients by sarcastically remarking how “the ‘tourists’ must be worried about fire… ” (Bauby, 1997, pp. 33) while in reality, he knows they are purposefully ignoring him. If Bauby had participation barriers, he would not be able to think and respond in the way that he did to the patients.
Thus, Bauby’s role in society as an author gives us another perspective on the different things we allow to enslave our lives, whether it be physically or mentally. Conclusion Bauby’s memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, shows us the amazing potential that the human mind possesses. Therefore, I have observed that though Jean-Dominique Bauby is considered to have disabilities and impairments, he is not handicapped because he lived life to the full. In conclusion, Bauby’s words will forever be respected and remembered for being a passionate writer and a man of courage.