Author Topic: The Next Time ANY of You Feel Depressed... think of this  (Read 174 times)

Trauma-san

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The Next Time ANY of You Feel Depressed... think of this
« on: March 08, 2003, 10:05:12 AM »
We're all such whiners, LOL.  Literally, there is NOTHING anywhere remotely near this level wrong with my life.  We're all blessed, we just don't think of it that way.  We think it's god's fault we don't have money, or we're being laughed at because of our looks, or whatever each of us thinks.  Read this story, good god.

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A lifetime of iron will
Polio trapped Martha Mason in an iron lung
JOE DEPRIEST
Staff Writer

 
ROBERT LAHSER



 
Top, Childhood friend Ann Sipe gives Martha a kiss before leaving after a long visit. Below, Martha Mason at age 11.

 
LATTIMORE - Three days after her brother died of polio in 1948, Martha Mason went to bed terrified she had the virus.

Mason, 11, hadn't told her devastated parents how much her body hurt. She didn't want them to cry any more.

But as of that night, Mason never walked again.

Paralyzed from the neck down, she's spent most of the last 54 years lying inside an iron lung, an 800-pound, 7-foot airtight tube that breathes for her. She may be the oldest American still using an iron lung every day, respiratory equipment experts say. Now she spends only a few minutes each day outside the lung.

"Despite the inconveniences my useless body has caused others -- and me -- I consider life an adventure worth waking up for every morning," Mason, 65, writes in "Breath: Life in the Rhythm of an Iron Lung," out this month from best-selling author Jerry Bledsoe's Down Home Press in Asheboro.

Mason's fierce spirit has shielded her from self-pity; she's strong-willed, surprisingly optimistic and ready to talk about books, movies, news from Iraq or a Wake Forest University football game.

She's also a realist.

In the memoir she writes: "... I'm not advocating a mindless, contrived, be-happy-in-agony philosophy of life. I live with a stable of nightmares, but hope keeps them in harness."

Attached to the iron lung are refrigerator magnets friends gave her from places she's never been -- Cape Hatteras, Oregon, Hawaii.

Through her voice-activated computer, Mason carries on a worldwide e-mail correspondence, reads at least four daily newspapers, including the London Times, listens to classical music and explores any direction her imagination leads her.

Mason's childhood friend and editor, former Davidson College English professor Charles Cornwell, encouraged her to write an autobiography.

"The story of a woman in an iron lung is sad in the abstract," said Cornwell, now living in Charleston. "But when you meet Martha face to face, it's different. You come away feeling good. What she's done in her condition is a great tribute to the human spirit."

Her `work horse'

Mason survived a devastating scourge, also known as infantile paralysis, that killed thousands and disabled millions only a few decades ago.The polio virus infected people who had ingested minute amounts of fecal matter from contaminated water or unsanitary facilities. Children were kept indoors as the deadly virus spread through big cities and towns like Lattimore, population 420, about 60 miles west of Charlotte in Cleveland County.

Many who did contract polio became permanently paralyzed as the virus attacked motor neurons in the brain stem, reducing breathing capacity. Those patients often had to use an iron lung.

Invented in the mid-1920s by Harvard engineer Philip Drinker, the iron lung is a sealed chamber with electrically driven bellows in which air pressure is alternately reduced and increased. Pressure contracts the patient's diaphragm, causing inhalation; opposite pressure expands the diaphragm, causing exhalation.

Iron lungs filled hospitals during polio epidemics of the '40s and '50s, but the bulky machines were eventually replaced by smaller, portable ventilators.

Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine had almost eradicated the virus in the United States by the 1960s. Today, polio is still found in west and central Africa and south Asia.

In 1984, doctors began to recognize polio's new cruelty. Post polio syndrome affects those who contracted polio decades ago. Survivors suffer anew with symptoms, including pain and weakness. As many as 40 percent of the 600,000 U.S. polio survivors may be afflicted.

When Mason contracted polio, iron lungs were the only breathing technology available. She's tried other devices, but likes the iron lung better.

« Last Edit: March 08, 2003, 10:13:17 AM by Trauma Phillips »
 

Trauma-san

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Re:The Next Time ANY of You Feel Depressed... think of this
« Reply #1 on: March 08, 2003, 10:05:21 AM »
"I continued with the `work horse,' '' she said. "Now, I'm sure there are things out there I could use, but my lifestyle is pretty set after more than a half-century.

"An iron lung is low maintenance and can be operated by people without special training. These yellow landlocked submarines are immensely dependable."

Around-the-clock caretakers stay with her in the 100-year-old house where she's lived since the age of 5. She prefers not to discuss her finances or how she pays for care and medication.

Her home within that home is the big, yellow tube powered by an electric motor with a generator backup. It sighs rhythmically in a room filled with books and photos, including the last pre-polio shot of Mason: a tall, skinny girl smiling beside her bicycle.

Today, visitors see only her head, resting on a pillow outside the lung. Her softly curled hair is white now, the once-athletic body motionless, but her smile is the same. She speaks with a soft Southern accent.

Years ago, Mason could stay out of the machine for a few hours. But the periods shortened as she grew older.

As a young woman, polio didn't deter her from a college education.

Mason spent at least 20 hours in her iron lung every day, but she received a two-year degree from Gardner-Webb College (now University) in Boiling Springs and a degree in English from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. Mason and her parents lived on Wake's campus, where she stayed in her room and listened to class lectures through an intercom system.

In 1960, she graduated first in her class and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.

Mason achieved her goals, but darkness sometimes seeped in. "Occasionally a shadow of regret crept in to momentarily keep the sun from shining in my world," she writes.

Now she leaves the iron lung 10 to 15 minutes a day, using a portable ventilator as caretakers do her daily personal hygiene.

Mason always dreamed of writing, and as a child glued her name to books, pretending she was the author. She loved to read, and while she was in the iron lung her mother turned the pages of thousands of books for her daughter. (Years later, she got an electric page-turner.)

In the book jacket, N.C. novelist Reynolds Price, who is partially paralyzed from a spinal tumor, said Mason "writes with eloquence and fearless clarity about one of the most extraordinary lives I've ever known."

Part of the tension in Mason's book comes from the relationship with her mother. After years as her daughter's caretaker, Euphra Mason's personality began to change because of a series of mini-strokes in the late 1980s, about 10 years after Martha Mason's father had died.

Euphra Mason turned on her daughter, slapped and cursed her. Martha Mason, helpless in an iron lung, feared her own mother.

A stroke finally left Euphra Mason in a childlike state.

"I watched my mother, a strong, vibrant, organized woman, turn into a weak, disorganized shadow," Mason said.

"She went from a peerless caregiver to dependency on an inept helper."

During that time, Martha Mason began the memoir as an escape.

In 1998, her mother died after another stroke.

Mason kept working on the memoir, pushing deeper into the past, trying to recapture childhood days when she could still walk and run.

"Some of this stuff I've never talked about," Mason said.

"Even my closest friends aren't aware of some of my feelings and thoughts."

Candlelight dinners

Mason lives on a quiet side street in Lattimore. She can't go to town so town comes to her.

Friends stop by for gossip or advice. Book clubs meet there to discuss everything from "Moby Dick" to mysteries by Patricia Cornwell, whom Mason has known since Cornwell reported for The Observer.

Cornwell was married to Charles Cornwell, and the two often visited Mason.

"I have long been inspired by the way she has lived so courageously and gracefully above the tragedy of her circumstances," Patricia Cornwell said in the book jacket. "I have hoped she would tell her story, and now she has done it. She writes as beautifully as she lives."

In a large room dominated by the iron lung, friends gather at dinner parties by candlelight and consume bottles of wine. Mason eats lying down.

Friends bring baskets of wildflowers and videos of weddings, birthday parties, funerals, outings at the mall and vacations.

As Mason recently watched footage of a trip to Pennsylvania, she sipped Birch beer and ate soft pretzels friends brought back.

A visitor once brought a bottle of ants to help Mason feel close to nature.

People of all ages drop by, including children, who practice reading by her side.

The visitor flow is steady. Mason is an engaging conversationalist. People come, drawn not by pity but by the joy of the visit.

"Everybody loves her," said retired schoolteacher Polly Fite, who has known Mason 43 years. "She makes you feel like you're important. When you go see Martha, you think, `I really don't know anything about overcoming obstacles.' Your own problems don't seem that much anymore."

Mason considers her book a tribute to her friends who have brought the world closer to her.

"I'm happy with who I am, where I am," Mason said. "I wouldn't have chosen this life, certainly. But given this life, I've probably had the best situation anyone could ask for."


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Joe DePriest: (704) 868-7745; jdepriest@charlotteobserver.com  


 

Doggystylin

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Re:The Next Time ANY of You Feel Depressed... think of this
« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2003, 12:46:24 PM »
Wow, thats crazy, i would have killed myself, and your right, were really ungratefull shits
 

Quakaveli

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Re:The Next Time ANY of You Feel Depressed... think of this
« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2003, 02:04:23 PM »
Man when I first read this I thought it was gunna be some pity-invoking shit but this ladys amazing  :o
 

TheSheriff

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Re:The Next Time ANY of You Feel Depressed... think of this
« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2003, 07:56:03 PM »
A truly great woman.
 

Tanjential

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Re:The Next Time ANY of You Feel Depressed... think of this
« Reply #5 on: March 15, 2003, 03:10:20 AM »
No this makes me hold things against God even more. Not for my suffering but for hers. Have you ever read "The Mysterious Stranger: by Mark Twain? Mark Twain speaks of  a God who could make happy children as easily as sad ones but never made a happy one. Could have made perfect children instead of bad ones but never made a perfect one. Mouths mercy and invented hell. Mouths forgiveness of seventy times seven and invented hell. Mouths laws but breaks them all. Makes man imperfect and has us take responsibilities for out shortcomings when he should honorably place it upon himself. We never asked to exist.And then as a final slap in the face to this abused slave he invites us to WORSHIP him? ...The kind of absurdity dreams are made of...think about it.-T

 
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Quakaveli

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Re:The Next Time ANY of You Feel Depressed... think of this
« Reply #6 on: March 15, 2003, 03:23:13 AM »
No this makes me hold things against God even more. Not for my suffering but for hers. Have you ever read "The Mysterious Stranger: by Mark Twain? Mark Twain speaks of  a God who could make happy children as easily as sad ones but never made a happy one. Could have made perfect children instead of bad ones but never made a perfect one. Mouths mercy and invented hell. Mouths forgiveness of seventy times seven and invented hell. Mouths laws but breaks them all. Makes man imperfect and has us take responsibilities for out shortcomings when he should honorably place it upon himself. We never asked to exist.And then as a final slap in the face to this abused slave he invites us to WORSHIP him? ...The kind of absurdity dreams are made of...think about it.-T

Well for us Hindus dis portion aint no big deal...its all about Karma....maybe dis lady was erally evil in da past life...but better believe in her next rebirth shes gunna have a good life... ;)
 

Now_Im_Not_Banned

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Re:The Next Time ANY of You Feel Depressed... think of this
« Reply #7 on: March 16, 2003, 01:19:20 AM »
Damn...That's sooooo fucked up...I feel extremely bad for her...She's a brave lady...PeACe
 

ontherise

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Re:The Next Time ANY of You Feel Depressed... think of this
« Reply #8 on: March 20, 2003, 08:05:31 PM »
thats so sad but that lady has heart