A Lifetime in the Rhythm of An Iron Lung : A Memoir

Book - 2010
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After contracting polio as a young girl Martha Mason of tiny Lattimore, North Carolina, lived a record sixty-one of her seventy-one years in an iron lung until her death in 2009, but she never let the 800-pound cylinder define her. The subject of a documentary film, an NPR feature, an ABC News piece, and a widely syndicated New York Times obituary, Martha enjoyed life, and people. From within her iron lung, she graduated first in her class in high school and at Wake Forest University, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She was determined to be a writer and, with her devoted mother taking dictation, she became a journalist--but had to give up her career when her father became ill. Still, Martha created for herself a vast and radiant world--holding dinner parties with the table pushed right up to her iron lung, voraciously reading, running her own household, and caring for her mother when she became ill with Alzheimer's and increasingly abusive to Martha. When voice-activated computers became available, Martha wrote Breath , in part as a tribute to her mother. "This book is her story," writes Anne Rivers Siddons in her preface, "told in the rich words of a born writer. That she told it is a gift to everyone who will read it. That she told it is also as near to a miracle as most are likely to encounter."

Publisher: New York : Bloomsbury, 2010
Edition: 1st Bloomsbury USA ed
ISBN: 9781608191192
Characteristics: xxvi, 342 p. : ill., map ; 21 cm


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May 04, 2017

In 1948, at the age of eleven and before the advent of life-saving vaccines, Martha Mason contracted polio. Although she survived the disease itself, it left her a quadriplegic confined to an iron lung, and her parents were advised that she would not live out the year. Martha not only exceeded those discouraging estimates regarding her potential life expectancy, but graduated as valedictorian from high school, earned a college degree, and lived to the astounding age (under the circumstances) of 71. She lived in her iron lung for 61 years, and this is her autobiography.

The experience, or even the idea, of an iron lung is more or less foreign today, so this was a quite fascinating read, as well as a curious peek into a time gone by. NB: As of 2014 there remained 10 people worldwide still living in iron lungs.


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