Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jean-Dominique Bauby and Julia Tavalaro

I read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby just over a year ago. What impressed me most about the book was that Bauby managed to write it within two years after his stroke. During that time I was still groggy from what Bertie Wooster would have called "a sock on the jaw by the fist of Fate" and thought of writing anything was far from my mind.

When I was in the hospital I remember a friend telling me that somebody had written a book by using only his eye movements. Perhaps he was talking about this book. I don't remember anything more about the conversation so I cannot be sure.

Another famous case of a patient with locked-in syndrome was Julia Tavalaro. She was thought to be in a vegetative state for six years before someone realised that she could understand what was happening around her and started communicating with her. Six years? I don't know how she survived that hellish period.

Sometime after I started communicating, I told about how I felt giddy in the bathroom. Till then everyone had thought that I had fallen and hit my head somewhere. I don't know why they thought that because I did not have any external injuries. Although the recent death of Natasha Richardson from a seemingly innocuous fall seems to suggest that they were not entirely unjustified in thinking along those lines.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Jaya thinks therefore I am

Eyes are vocal, tears have tongues,/ And there are words not made with lungs. -Richard Crashaw, poet

I was asked some question which could not be structured into a form for which I could give a yes/no answer. Jaya saw a notebook nearby and got an idea. She quickly wrote down the letters of the alphabet thus:

This became the Rosetta Stone for interpreting my dumb charades. She pointed to different letters and I blinked at the required letters. She joined them to form words and joined the words to form a sentence. In this way she managed to get the correct answer.

In order to quicken the process, Jaya would first ask me the line in which the letter will occur. For example: If I wanted to dictate "The", she will first ascertain the line in which the letter falls by saying 1,2,3,4. I will blink for line 3. Then she will start from "Q" and I will blink at 'T" and so on.

Eventually, we memorised the positions of the letters so she did not have to write them down. For most common words, if I dictate the first two or three letters, she will guess the word and if I dictate the first few words she might guess the sentence.

If you are wondering why the letters are distributed as above, stop wasting your time. Jaya just wrote down the letters on a sheet of paper and that is the way they turned out.

I didn't think of this method of communication. Even if I had thought of it first, I would not have been able to tell anyone about it. Someone else had to think of it and tell me the rules. Fortunately for me, Jaya thought of it and it has ultimately resulted in this blog. So if you are wasting too much of your time, you know who to blame!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I heard many people talking about "Cargill". I wondered why everyone was so interested in an American food company. The conversations were out of my earshot but I picked up words like India, Pakistan, Clinton, casualty. I couldn't understand how these words could be related to "Cargill".

Someone showed me the news paper but I couldn't see it clearly. A doctor mentioned that "crores had been collected for Cargill". I was puzzled about why Indians were collecting money for an American company.

It was many days before I realised that there was some war going on between India and Pakistan at a place called "Kargil". I don't know why I didn't realise this earlier. There was a T.V. in my room and I remember some people listening to the news sometimes. Guess I had other things on my mind at that time.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cricket World Cup

Some time after I regained my consciousness, the  Cricket World Cup started.  In normal times I will know the dates of all important matches but now I was not even sure of the month, leave alone what was going on in the world.

The doctors suggested that it would be a good idea to let me watch the matches.  Accordingly, a television was fitted in my room.  When I was asked if I could see clearly, I replied in the negative.  So the colour, contrast, position etc were adjusted but I still couldn't see clearly. I knew what the problem was but I couldn't convey it.  After a while  somebody realised what the problem was - I was not wearing my glasses!

After I got my glasses it was much better. Although I had some problems because I still had double vision. Watching two Tendulkars essaying a cover drive was not as satisfying as watching one but it was much better than watching nothing. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Double vision

When I recovered consiousness,  I found that my eyeballs were fixed in their sockets.  Each eye formed a separate image and thus I could not see clearly.  If I had to look at something on my side, I had to turn my head in that direction in order to see it.

Each day the doctor will place a finger some distance above my head, move it in different directions and ask me to follow the movements with my eyes without moving my head. He asked Jaya to make me do this exercise as many times as possible.  

Slowly over many days I regained full movements of my eyeballs. Again, I don't remember how long this took.