Well now… this is a DELIGHTFUL letter, hahaha!
Well now… this is a DELIGHTFUL letter, hahaha!
On December 8, 1995, the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, Jean-Dominique Bauby, suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma. He awoke 20 days later, mentally aware of his surroundings but physically paralyzed with the exception of some movement in his head and eyes (one of which had to be sewn up due to an irrigation problem).
In his nearly immobile state, Jean-Dominique Bauby wrote a book by communicating by blinking his left eyelid. A transcriber repeatedly recited a French language frequency-ordered alphabet (E, S, A, R, I, N, T, U, L, etc.), until Bauby blinked to choose the next letter.
The book took about 200,000 blinks to write and an average word took approximately two minutes. He did this for four hours a day and it took about 10 months. The book chronicles everyday events for a person with locked-in syndrome.
Bauby died of pneumonia two days after the book was published.
Here are the first 15 pages to give you a taste. It’s an amazing read.
Through the frayed curtain at my window, a wan glow announces the break of day. My heels hurt, my head weighs a ton, and something like a giant invisible diving bell holds my whole body prisoner. My room emerges slowly from the gloom. I linger over every item: photos of loved ones, my children’s drawings, posters, the little tin cyclist sent by a friend the day before the Pairs-Roubaix bike race, and the IV pole hanging over the bed where I have been confined these past six months, like a hermit crab dug into his rock.
No need to wonder very long where I am, or to recall that the life I once knew was snuffed out Friday, the eighth of December, last year.
Up until then, I had never even heard of the brain stem. I’ve since learned that it is an essential component of our internal computer, the inseparable link between the brain and the spinal cord. I was brutally introduced to this vital piece of anatomy when a cerebrovascular accident took my brain stem out of action. In the past it was known as a “massive stroke,” and you simply died. But improved resuscitation techniques have now prolonged and refined the agony. You survive, but you survive with what is so aptly known as “locked-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.
Of course, the party chiefly concerned is the last to hear the good news. I myself had twenty days of deep coma and several weeks of grogginess and somnolence before I truly appreciated the extent of the damage. I did not fully awake until the end of January. When I finally surfaced, I was in Room 119 of the Naval Hospital at Berck-sur-Mer, on the French Channel coast—the same room 119, infused now with the first light of day, from which I write.
An ordinary day. At seven the chapel bells begin to punctuate the passage of time, quarter hour by quarter hour. After their night’s respite, my congested bronchial tubes once more begin their noisy rattle. My hands, lying curled on the yellow sheets, are hurting, although I can’t tell if they are burning hot or ice cold. To fight off stiffness, I instinctively stretch, my arms and legs moving only a fraction of an inch. It is often enough to bring relief to a painful limb.
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’s 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.
Enough rambling. 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 direction, 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.
Seven-thirty. The duty nurse interrupts the flow of my thoughts. Following a well-established ritual, she draws the curtain, checks tracheostomy and drip feed, and turns on the TV so I can watch the news. Right now a cartoon celebrates the adventures of the fastest frog in the West. And what if I asked to be changed into a frog? What then?
I had never seen so many white coats in my little room. Nurses, orderlies, physical therapist, occupational therapist, psychologist, neurologist, interns and even the department head—the whole hospital had turned out for the event. When they first burst in, pushing the conveyance ahead of them, I thought it meant that I was being ejected to make room for a new patient. I had already been at Berck a few weeks and was daily drawing nearer to the shores of awareness, but I still could not imagine any connection between a wheelchair and me.
No one had yet given me an accurate picture of my situation, and I clung to the certainty, based on bits and pieces I had overheard, that I would very quickly recover movement and speech.
Indeed, my roving mind was busy with a thousand projects: a novel, travel, a play, marketing a fruit cocktail of my own invention. (Don’t ask for the recipe; I have forgotten it.) They immediately dressed me. “Good for the morale,” pronounced the neurologist in sententious tones. And in truth I would have been pleased to trade my yellow nylon hospital gown for a plaid shirt, old pants and a shapeless sweater—except that it was a nightmare to put them on. Or rather to watch the clothes manipulated, after endless contortions, over these uncooperative deadweight limbs, which serve only as a source of pain.
When I was finally dressed, the ritual could begin. 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 official quadriplegic. They didn’t quite applaud, but they came close. My caretakers made me travel the length and breadth of the hospital floor, to make certain that the seated position did not trigger uncontrollable spasms, but I was too devastated by this brutal downgrading of my future hopes to take much notice. They had to place a special cushion behind my head: it was wobbling about like the head of one of those African women upon removal of the stack of rings that has been stretching her neck for years. “You can handle the wheelchair,” said the occupational therapist, with a smile intended to make the remark sound like good news, whereas to my ears it had the ring of a life sentences. In one flash I saw the frightening truth. It was as blinding as an atomic explosion and keener than a guillotine blade. They all left.
As three orderlies laid me back down, I thought of movie gangsters struggling to fit the slain informers body into the trunk of their car. The wheelchair sat abandoned in a corner, with my clothes tossed over its dark-blue plastic backrest. Before the last white coat left the room, I signaled my wish to have the TV turned on, low. On the screen was my father’s favorite quiz show. Since daybreak, an unremitting drizzle had been streaking my windows.
Oddly enough, the shock of the wheelchair was helpful. Things became clearer. I gave up my grandiose plans, and the friends who had built a barrier of affection around me since my catastrophe were able to talk freely. With the subject no longer taboo, we began to discuss locked-in syndrome. First of all, it is very rare. It is small consolation, but the chances of being caught in this hellish trap was about as likely as those of winning the lottery. At Berck, only two of us were locked in, and my own case was not classic. I am able to swivel my head, which is not supposed to be part of the clinical picture. Since most victims are relegated to a vegetable existence, the evolution of the disease is not well understood. Al that is known is that if the nervous system makes up its mind to start working again, it does so at the speed of a hair growing from the base of the brain. SO it is likely that several years will go by before I can expect to wiggle my toes.
In fact, it is in my respiratory passages that I can hope for improvement. In the long term, I can hope to eat more normally: that is, without the help of a gastric tube. Eventually, perhaps I will be able to breathe naturally, without a respirator, and muster enough breath to make my vocal cords vibrate.
But for now, I would be the happiest of men if I could just swallow the overflow of saliva that endlessly floods my mouth. Even before first light, I am already practicing sliding my tongue toward the rear of my palate in order to provoke a swallowing reaction. What is more, I have dedicated to my larynx the little packets of incense hanging on the wall, amulets brought back from Japan by pious globe-trotting friends. Just one of the stones in the thanksgiving monument erected by my circle of friends during their wandering.
In every corner of the world, the most diverse deities have been solicited in my name. I try to organize all this spiritual energy. If they tell me that candles have been burned for my sake in Breton chapel, or that a mantra has been chanted in a Nepalese temple, I at once give each of the spirits invoked a precise task. A woman I know enlisted a Cameroon holy man to procure me the goodwill of Africa’s gods: I have assigned him my right eye. For my hearing problems I rely on the relationship between my devout mother-in-law and the monks of a Bordeaux brotherhood. They regularly dedicate their prayers to me, and I occasionally steal into their abbey to hear their chants fly heavenward. So far the results have been unremarkable. But hwen seven brothers of the same order had their throats cut by Islamic fanatics, my earrs hurt for several days. Yet all these lofty protections are merely clay ramparts, walls of sand, Maginot lines, compared to the small prayer my daughter, Céleste, sends up to her lord every evening before she closes her eyes. Since we fall asleep at roughly the same hour, I set out for the kingdom of slumber with this wonderful talisman, which shields me from all harm.
That was wonderful, no? I think you should find the used version of this book or watch the movie. The movie is pretty sad but it’s inspiring in its strange ways. It helps you appreciate life. So go out there and LIVE WHILE YOU CAN. 🙂
I’ve been wearing these Fivefinger Vibram KSO’s since August 2010 and not a day goes by when I don’t get some comments or questions about them when I go out. I’ll share some of the things they ask and what I tell them! You would probably ask one of these questions as well, haha. 🙂
Yes, they are shoes. If you like being barefoot, these are awesome. They help retain the barefoot-feel very well because the bottom is thin enough so I could feel the surface but it’s thick enough so that if I step on sharp rocks, it doesn’t hurt.
Well these could be used for anything really… I wear them all the time, not just for exercise only. As for running, they are GREAT for running! I didn’t even used to like running but now I actually enjoy it because it’s become a completely different experience.
When we run with regular shoes, our heel tends to strike the ground first. When the heel hits the ground, it acts like a hammer to the heel. This impact travels up to the knees and hips. This is one reason why some people get knee or hip pain when they go running! Instead, when I run with the Vibrams on, I run the way I would if I were barefoot, meaning, I land on the balls of my feet and my heel tends to stay up in the air (like in the picture). My heels don’t even touch the ground until I start getting very tired because the entire foot behaves very much like a spring. Instead of landing on my heel and coming to an abrupt stop, my feet are much more efficient in helping me to rebound back up for the next step. Running used to feel like a very crude experience before (one that I wanted to stop almost immediately after starting). But now because it’s so much smoother, I can easily get in a nice flow with it.
I paid $100 with tax. I’ve never paid $100 for a pair of shoes before, but it turns out they are worth every penny. For the first few months, when I would go out with these shoes on, my awareness was constantly split between my consciousness and this new kinesthetic awareness of the ground. My brain was constantly processing new sensory input from something I was always disconnected to. This awesome experience, coupled with the fact that my feet were getting stronger from using them the way nature intended, make them totally worth it to me!
I know that my local Sport Chalet and REI stores carry them. You could totally try them on there. The shoes go by european-sizes, so you should experiment with a couple different sizes at least. Go for the nice, snug, fit. When wearing them, press against your big-toe, there shouldn’t be any play or looseness. If there is try one size smaller.
There’s a bunch of different models and I recommend the KSO model since that seems to be the most popular and best for all around use. My friend also uses the Bikila-model because she loves to go running and those are specifically the best for running. Another friend got the Treksports because they have a thicker sole and his bare feet feel very sensitive. The drawback to that model is that ground cannot be felt as easily. Just see what you like and go with the KSO if you are really unsure!
Well I hope that gives you a better idea why I wear these shoes! The benefits are aplenty. 🙂
There are a few vibram-specific issues with them though. You must know how to keep them clean, odor-free and what to use if you want to repair them easily! Luckily I’ve gotten a good regime down for all these things and I share them in this follow-up article: How to maintain and repair Vibram FiveFingers
First things first. I love efficiency. I am a fan of efficiency. I think in terms of efficiency often.
When it comes to cars, I like lightweight cars. I like small cars. I like cars that are engineered to handle really well. For these reasons alone, I love old cars, as they used to weigh a lot less. And I love old European cars to be specific, as they both handle well and are light weight.
When the MINI Cooper came out in 2003, it impressed me because there was finally a car on the market that looked really euro, handled well and was quite practical!
Let’s be realistic about its supposed-subcompact-class though. It has usable rear seats to accommodate 2 people in the back. The rear leg room makes a mockery of the interior design of most other sports cars such as the Ford Mustang. The rear seats fold down completely flat allowing better versatility than most trunks! (Hatchbacks > Trunks)
I don’t a wife or kids. I’m almost always driving alone and occasionally, I’ll have one passenger. Very rarely do I have more than one passenger in the car. Ironically, I could even say that this subcompact car… is actually too large for me!
So… in 2003, I visited a MINI dealership to see their inventory. Almost all of them were loaded with excessive packages that were dramatically inflating the price AND making the cars heavier than I’d prefer. I found I could custom order my car to come the way I want. I wanted minimal options to keep the price low and the weight of the car low. For you see, weight is everything in racing, handling, efficiency/mileage. The drawback was I had to wait 3 months for it to arrive but it was totally worth the wait!
So I chose the Mini Cooper S in dark silver and a black roof while purposely avoiding the following options:
The Cooper S up until 2006 came with only one choice for a transmission: a 6-speed manual. That was an unheard of (and an awesome) move by MINI USA.
Here are the logical reasons why I prefer to have the the smallest, lightest wheels on my car:
Unfortunately car makers for over the past decade have been increasing the standard wheel size that cars come with solely for aesthetics. Ironically, they oftentimes label the option for larger wheels as a “sports” package. These “upgrades” are actually DOWNGRADES when it comes to handling and gas mileage. They do nothing but give you cosmetically larger looking wheels (for about $1000 too!).
This trend may have been catapulted due to all the inane mainstream hip-hop songs bragging about the size of their “dubs.” First they were 18’s… then it became 20’s… then 20″ spinners, then 21’s… then it became 24’s due to SUV’s and so forth… really childish stuff. I’m sure it has something to do with this American mentality that bigger is better.
I didn’t order leather seats, power seats, heated seats, none of these unnecessary things that only add both to the cost AND weight!
The only options I ordered were DSC for safety and the Harmon Kardon sound system because listening to music with a nice sound system is AWESOME.
Three months later, after a boat ride from Britain to the east coast, and a truck shipping my car to the west coast, I got the car… That was a great time… 🙂
Early on, I weighed my car with a quarter tank of gas. The scale showed 2,540lbs. That was pretty light relative to most cars on the street in the USA! However, it’s not really something to brag about since 2,540lbs is still quite heavy for a car maker whose name is MINI.
Since buying my car, I have lightened it further over the years.
I didn’t weigh my car since doing these changes, but I can safely say that I saved over 60 additional pounds bringing the weight down to 2,480lbs.
Weight and performance trends in the US car market…
Cars have only gotten consistently heavier over the decades. For some reason a lot people think older cars used to be heavier and oftentimes selectively remember large Cadillac’s and Lincolns that are colloquially referred to as “tanks” due to their size and weight. But let me remind you that compact cars existed back then too and up to the very early 1990’s, they could be as low as 1800lbs and as heavy as 2300lbs. In comparison, my MINI cooper, a subcompact, with the lowest weight configuration possible from the factory, weighed 2,540lbs.
One reason why cars of today are relatively heavier are due to increased safety standards that demand frames be more rigid and have front and rear beams underneath the body.
A more glaring issue is that car makers are ever increasing the size of their models. Have you noticed that cars are getting slightly longer, wider and taller with every updated generation? After so many generations, popular models that started out as subcompacts and compacts from the 70’s and 80’s are now compact and mid-size, respectively. Anytime a car is made larger, it’s going to simply require more material and be a bit heavier.
Also, the hundreds of manufacturers that create the individual parts that make up a car are not being upheld to higher standards to create lighter versions of their parts. As a result, cars have gotten not only larger but more bloated over the decades, just like our software! And people!
The general public seems to have a perception that larger cars, namely SUV’s, are safer simply because they are larger. Honda, which makes some of the safest AND most fuel-efficient vehicles, has consistently shown us that dimensions and design are far more important than weight to have a safer car. This trend of buying larger cars just to feel safe created a domino effect of large cars dominating the scene just to feel safe. Would you fear driving a small car, if all the other cars on the road were also very small? Probably not.
The good news is that our engines have gotten dramatically more efficient over the decades, constantly increasing the amount of power they can get out of the same engines. However, the advancements in engine efficiency are often nullified by the ever increasing standard for power and the extra weight of bloated cars.
Car makers are constantly raising the bar for performance and the standards for acceleration and power are higher than ever before. In the 1990’s, only very high performance cars had engines exceeding 300hp for example, but nowadays the very popular, Ford Mustang 3.6L V6 creates over 300hp and the 5.0L V8 version generates over 400hp!
Imagine how much better a mileage a Mustang would have if they also offered a small, 2.0L 4-cylinder version that generates just 200hp, which is STILL way more than necessary for everyday driving. It’s not like most people actually USE (let alone NEED) all that power. But then again, the Mustang is supposedly their “muscle” car that’s meant to appeal to inexperienced teenagers who often like to speed, getting in trouble with the law or having accidents.
Anyway, my point is that instead of smaller, lighter cars with smaller-displacement engines, car makers seem to be doing the exact opposite. I know that they are very well aware that weight is everything in regards to efficiency, but they need to make much bolder moves, offering options for even smaller-displacement engines and to stop making cars bigger. Imagine how efficient our cars would be if they were very light weight like older cars but mate with our newer engines. What that would do to our mileage and performance?
I suppose if a gallon of gas is $10 one day, maybe we will catch up to the European efficiency standards. But then they’ll be 20 years ahead of us by then. 😯
Lots of funny social observations happening at Santa Monica College this week! I’ll share one…
I wanted to add a Biology class that was supposed to start at 12:45pm. I found the door to it around 12:30.
There were a couple people just hanging out right in front of the door, as if the door was locked and they were waiting for the professor to come open the door.
I was a bit early and decided to go a bit further away, so I could be in the open air and under the beautiful, light drizzle at the time. The air felt really nice to breathe. And I still had a line of sight to the classroom entrance.
As the minutes rolled by, more and more people started arriving to hang out in front of the door.
So 12:45 arrived with no sign of the professor still. And I’m just staring at these people who are all just quietly standing around and staring at the door.
At around 12:50, five minutes late, the door to the class SUDDENLY swung open from INSIDE!
Guess who! It’s the professor! And in the room, I could see there’s dozens of people already seated inside for all this time.
The professor yells out, “Ah! I thought I was gonna get to add a lot of people!”
And everybody really close to him looked somewhat stupefied that they COULD HAVE JUST GONE IN and they were waiting for no reason and everybody just started to swarm inside.
I think this qualifies as sheep-like behavior. Nobody tried to open the door. And early on, when there were just a few people, nobody tried to strike up a conversation or question what was going on. Instead they just assumed everything, just like I did!
I’m not saying these people are stupid. Maybe a BIT meekish. I mean after all, *I* didn’t go and try to open the door either. I chose to just enjoy my fresh air for as long as possible. Maybe they were all thinking the same thing as me, right?
Either way, this sort of group-think seems to happen very often at school! Maybe it’s just because they are mostly young adolescents and somewhat afraid to come forward and say what’s on their minds or to speak up. I’m not sure what’s going on but god damn it’s really fun to watch.
Do you see this sort of behavior at your school as well?