Day #243:Olympic Character:The Story of Jean-Dominique Bauby

In his column DNA of Champions, Joel Stein wrote about having his DNA compared with Olympic Gold Medalist Sergei Bubka’s DNA. It wasn’t surprising to read that there are certain genes that are common within Olympic athletes.

However . . . “The key Olympic success,” said Bubka, is that “you need to have character to go to your goal, to do your work, to be a hard worker.”

Jean-Dominique Bauby

Twenty days after having a stroke, Jean-Dominique Bauby woke from a coma, able to control his mind and one part of his body—his left eyelid.

“In the past, it was known as a ‘massive stroke,’ and you simply died,” wrote Bauby in his memoir The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

But improved resuscitation techniques have now prolonged and refined the agony. You survive, but you survive with what is so aptly known as “lock-in syndrome.” Paralyzed from head to toe, the patient, his mind intact, is imprisoned inside his own body, unable to speak or move. In my case, blinking my left eyelid is my only means of communication.

On its own, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a magnificent book (it became an international bestseller and then a Golden Globe-winning and Oscar-nominated film of the same name), but knowing how it was written—that blink by blink Bauby “dictated” his book to Claude Mendibil, who transferred his blinks to words on paper . . .

Each reading is the release of a story that was born in a prison.

Though Bauby was “locked in,” through blinking his voice was released, to be heard within the heads of readers around the world.

In the beginning of the prologue, he described “something like a giant invisible diving bell [holding his] whole body prisoner.”

As his day unfolds . . .

My diving bell becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas’ court.

You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face. You can build castles in Spain, steal the Golden Fleece, discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and adult ambitions.

Then he starts into the actual writing of the book.

My main task now is to compose the first of these bedridden travel notes so that I shall be ready when my publisher’s emissary arrives to take my dictation, letter by letter. In my head I churn over every sentence ten times, delete a word, add an adjective, and learn my text by heart, paragraph by paragraph.

Blink by blink his voice escaped, his passion continued.

Bauby had a world carved out for himself as a Journalist. However, when his circumstances changed, he had to adapt and then accomplished what many don’t have the inner strength to take one step toward accomplishing.

Going back to Bubka’s statement. Yes, there’s something to having certain genes, perhaps certain innate “gifts”—but having all the right things going for you doesn’t matter. It’s what you do with what you have, in the world in which you live.

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