Whether you provide direct-patient care or not, chances are that you have spent time at the bedside of a loved one and know that caring for someone who is sick is challenging. With nursing ratios becoming increasingly high and with many hospitals adopting patient-and family-centered philosophies, often times the patient is surrounded by people simply trying their best. Still, we really cannot provide the most in-tune care until we’ve been in that bed for ourselves.
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is probably the closest to that experience that I have had. Through the eye of Jean-Dominique Bauby and a creative cinematographer, we are taken into the world of locked-in syndrome, a condition where one is conscious, but paralyzed and voiceless. Bauby, once the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine in France, was at the prime of his life when he suffered a catastrophic stroke which left him trapped in his own body. Desperate to communicate with the world, Bauby worked with a speech therapist to coordinate blinks of his eye with letters of the alphabet and eventually spells out a story that could only be told by someone like himself.
The film, based on Bauby’s book, gives us an idea of what it was like to look through his eyes. Scene after scene, we hear Bauby’s frustration as he encounters different people—some who talk to him outside of his field of vision, some who leave the TV on without consideration as to if he even wants it on or not, and even an encounter with a therapist who reminds him that he still yearns to be with a woman. He makes it clear what it’s like to be trapped with only your thoughts, probably one of the most powerful first-hand experiences we will ever learn from working in health care.
Everything about this story reminded me that, in the end, we cannot forget to respect the dignity of those around us. As someone who has worked in different aspects of communications within the hospital-setting, I realize that it can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day. Even in passing, the way we engage with someone can have lasting impressions throughout their life. I hope that someday you find an hour or two to read the book or watch the film, because I promise it will change the way you approach the next patient you encounter.