Martha Mason, who spent 60 years in an iron lung, RIP

Martha Mason, who lived more than 60 of her 71 years in an iron lung, died on Monday. Mason wrote a memoir, "Breathe: Life in the Rhythm of an Iron Lung," and she's also been featured in a documentary film "Martha in Lattimore." There is currently one copy of Breathe on Amazon, listed at $200. From the NYT:
From her horizontal world – a 7-foot-long, 800-pound iron cylinder that encased all but her head – Ms. Mason lived a life that was by her own account fine and full, reading voraciously, graduating with highest honors from high school and college, entertaining and eventually writing.

She chose to remain in an iron lung, she often said, for the freedom it gave her. It let her breathe without tubes in her throat, incisions or hospital stays, as newer, smaller ventilators might require. It took no professional training to operate, letting her remain mistress of her own house, with just two aides assisting her.

“I’m happy with who I am, where I am,” Ms. Mason told The Charlotte Observer in 2003. “I wouldn’t have chosen this life, certainly. But given this life, I’ve probably had the best situation anyone could ask for.”New York Times:
"Martha Mason, Who Wrote Book About Her Decades in an Iron Lung, Dies at 71" (Thanks, Shawn Connally!)


  1. i would have spent the time spitting at the electrical outlet, praying for a short.

  2. What a wonder of a human being. To be dealt such a hand and play it with such grace? I feel humbled for my curmudgeonly whining about life’s little setbacks now.

    Goodnight Ms. Mason.

  3. so nowadays we have those small carry around iron-lungs. couldn’t they upgrade her at some point?

  4. Funnily, I agree with @2 and @3.

    And, snarkily:

    Why is an 800 pound iron lung and a life that requires two assistants easier than carrying around one of those portable jobbies? I see those little oxy-wheelies (or whatever they’re called) at disneyland and ruby tuesday’s all the time. Now how you gonna beat disney and ruby tuesday’s locked up in an big ol’ torpedo?


  5. @6 Mister Eppy:

    Because, unless I’m completely mistaken, those little oxy-wheelies simply provide a supply of oxygen to the breather. The iron lung Ms. Mason inhabited used pressure to force her lungs to expand and contract, forcing air into and out of her lungs. No tubes required, which was her preference, apparently.

  6. #6-#7. Iron Lung is to ventilator (machine that breaths for you an requires intubation or a hole in your throut) as oxygen tent is to oxygen by cannula (those oxy wheelies)

  7. She sounds agoraphobic. I’ve known of lots of women who have something catastrophic happen in their late teens-mid twenties and so long as it’s financially feasible, and nobody forces them to go outside they’re completely happy to not leave the house, well into their 80’s. It’s sad that we ended up paying for this when someone could have coerced her out into the world and interact with others.

  8. Major kudos to this woman. I know how it sucks to have devices stuck into me for mobility, on a lesser scale. (I have to use a spinal cord stimulator. It’s a pacemaker attached to leads embedded in the spine. It’s either this, or stay at home in bed in pain. The surgery was awful, as well as the surgeries before it. I almost chickened out and not do it.) I can see why she wouldn’t want to put herself through so much stress.

    I wasn’t around when polio was around, but it sounds devastating. It could happen to any kid at any time, and they came out of it crippled. It could have been anyone’s kid, at any age. Thank goodness for vaccinations.

    I’m glad she was able to use a computer. I’m dubious about the voice control, but maybe I’m just too paranoid. The total isolation would have driven me batty.

  9. Note: this woman’s experience was dictated to her as a child, before real alternatives were available

    Hadlock is (probably) right, but not in an evil judgmental way. I know, I am the sort of person mentioned. Progressive pain throughout my twenties, combined with a social dedication I eventually became incapable to manage, has resulted in mostly-bedridden me.

    The friends I formed through superhuman effort are all but gone, and my family finds me exasperating to say the least. If it weren’t for my husband running errands, I might even neglect myself into nonexistence.

    Judge if you like, but only if you are prepared to experience random crushing pain.

  10. Biphasic Cuirass Ventilation. Just like the iron lung, but instead of enclosing everything but the head, the legs and arms pokes out. Smaller and more portable.

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