In the pretty and bright house in the suburbs of Nîmes (Gard), the television is noisily playing the afternoon soap operas. Bernadette Adams, 78, does not look at them but seems to appreciate the reassuring buzz of TF1. He almost covers the sound of his voice. And sometimes threatens to interfere with the conversation. She realizes that it bothers : “I don’t like having a quiet house at all. Even now… ” Now that her husband is no longer there.
Plunged for 39 years in a vegetative state following an anesthesia accident, Jean-Pierre Adams died on September 6, at the age of 73. He was a football star of the 1970s, an intractable defender of the France team, including Nice and Paris Saint-Germain.
Doctors who examined his state of minimal consciousness never claimed that his condition was irreversible. Bernadette never resigned herself to the silence of her husband. “Every day, I would touch her lips, I would say ‘come on, talk to me’! Every day repeating the same thing to him, poor man… ” Every day for 39 years.
March 17, 1982, the day everything changed
Bernadette and Jean-Pierre lived together for 14 years before the accident. They met at the end of the 1960s, during a ball at the village hall of Montargis (Loiret). They both liked to dance. “It’s him and not another”, she announces to her parents. At first, Bernadette’s mother protested a little against her daughter’s choice to marry a young black man, who arrived from Senegal at the age of 8. Quickly, the couple married and had two sons, Laurent then Frédéric. A life made up of trips, parties and new encounters as the club changes. “It was cheerful, lively”, remembers his wife.
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On March 17, 1982, Jean-Pierre fell into a coma, then woke up a few weeks later in a state from which he would never come out. The couple’s life changes, definitely. After the accident, Bernadette describes Jean-Pierre as a silent, mysterious presence, far from the man she had known before. “My husband was laughing, having fun and nightclubs with friends. “
Bedridden, he does not recognize his relatives, his wife, or his children. “But he had the hearing and the smell”, insists Bernadette. For this woman who has kept all the elegance of her youth, these reactions, however small they may be, have always been important.
A sensitive presence
During all these years, Bernadette recounts that Jean-Pierre coughed, that he jumped, that the television and the radio soothed him. She talks about her perfume, Paco Rabanne, of “His moment of happiness” when she put it to him : “He was inhaling it. ” Before her death, she had just bought him two new bottles.
This sensitive, almost imperceptible presence, not everyone sees it. To some, Jean-Pierre and his vague gaze are scary. Most of his relatives in the football world, although very supportive and loyal to Bernadette, will never come to visit their friend. Marius Trésor, his former teammate of the France team, confides: “I didn’t want to see him like that. I preferred to remember happy images of him. ” Bernadette has no bitterness : “Marius is not the only one, there were a lot of them. “
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She remembers Thierry Roland, the famous sports commentator, who said on TV that he did not want to see Jean-Pierre “With pipes everywhere”. And yet there was none : “He did not depend on any machine!, resumes Bernadette. People had misconceptions. ” After the accident, it is above all his dedication that marks Jean-Pierre’s friends. Jacques Vendroux, sports journalist, close to the family, confided just after the funeral: “I don’t know if I would have had the strength to do what she did. She remained faithful to her marriage vows until the end. “
An ever-present faith but a wavering practice
A year after the medical error, Bernadette takes her husband to Lourdes. The couple boarded a medical train for the Marian city. The sanctuary offers pilgrims to be bathed in spring water from the cave of the apparitions. Jean-Pierre is immersed in it every day but does not recover. Bernadette keeps the faith, but her practice falters. She kept praying “So as not to die before him”. ” If there is a good Lord, why him? “, she asks today without waiting for an answer.
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Catholicism remains important to her, who regrets that her grandchildren are not baptized. At Jean-Pierre’s funeral on September 10, 2021, the priest tried to summarize what she does not express. “Thinking of Jean-Pierre Adams, our indignation coexists with our faith. Nothing is completely clear. If everything was clear, we wouldn’t need to believe. “
A force of habit
For 39 years, Bernadette’s days were entirely organized around the care to be provided to Jean-Pierre. Get up at 6:45 am, prepare breakfast. Toilet, shaving, friction. Preparation of lunch, then dinner… “By force, it was I who dictated the prescriptions to the doctor and I had learned to turn him like a pancake, to avoid bedsores. “
This force of habit has sometimes come up against the incomprehension of those around him. It is suggested that she entrust her husband to a structure, ” to enjoy life “… We question him on the question of euthanasia. She agrees to participate in the program “It is discussed” by Jean-Luc Delarue to defend her choices.
Even today, she launches: “What did you want me to stop feeding him?” “ In 2013, when Michael Schumacher, the Formula 1 champion, suffered a skiing accident, he was questioned again. “But what do you want me to think, I don’t have his medical file”, she annoys.
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At the height of the Lambert affair, she received a letter from Vincent’s mother, sending her a photo of her son, to encourage her to take a stand against stopping treatment. Certainly, Bernadette is against euthanasia, but for her, “Each case is different”. It has not pronounced on the Lambert affair, nor on any other.
A testimony without being a battle of ideas
Bernadette never made her story a battle of ideas. She only testifies to what she experienced in her family: “It may sound strange, but the children were happy that their father was there. The grandchildren even more. “ Even after his accident, Jean-Pierre still brought them together. All his birthdays were celebrated, Father’s Day too. Bernadette recounts the kisses that her grandchildren spontaneously came to place on their grandfather’s cheeks. “Unlike the adults, they weren’t impressed. “
There are other things that Bernadette does not share: her suffering, the intimacy of her husband, whom she has been protecting for a long time and with pugnacity. The sick room, the door of which can be seen from the living room, remains a sanctuary which cannot be entered. “I haven’t been going there since his death, it’s too hard. “
No photo of him has ever been circulated after his accident. She took care of it. She is willing to tell that Jean-Pierre had not changed physically: while those around him grew older, he did not take a wrinkle. But she doesn’t say much about what is inside her. Except for this “link” that had been woven between their emotions of the moment: “When I was down, he wasn’t very brave either. “ He needed her like she needed him.
Minimum states of consciousness
In France, around 1,500 people are in a “state of minimal consciousness”, according to an estimate from the Ministry of Health in 2014. These states set in after acute brain damage and a coma phase.
Although these two states are fluctuating, a distinction is made between the chronic vegetative state (EVC) and the pauci-relational state (EPR).
We are talking about CVS patients when their reactions to stimuli (painful, sound, visual, etc.) do not show signs of self-awareness or of the environment, but are reflex. Recently, it has been proposed to give this state the name of unanswered waking state, to avoid the use of terms with pejorative connotations (vegetables, green plants, etc.).
We are talking about patients in EPR, when these, although they do not seem to react generally to the surrounding solicitations, will nevertheless sometimes give behavioral proofs of self-awareness (turn the head or look towards a loved one, shake a limb, etc.). It is said that these reactions are not reproducible, which leaves doubt about their voluntary nature.