A blog about universal and accessible design

Sunday, May 10, 2009

image: Martha Mason, a woman with glasses and a long gray ponytail, is pictured in her wood-paneled living room, lying horizontally in a creamy yellow-colored iron lung respirator. A younger woman, Mary Dalton, sits in a chair by Martha with her head tilted to look at her friend.

The NY Times has an exceptionally evocative, personal obit today for Martha Mason, the author of a memoir, Breathe, about her life using an iron lung for the last 60 years. According to the article she was one of about 30 people who still use iron lungs in the US. The article tenderly evokes the rhythms of life using a large, unwieldy, but life-saving piece of equipment that eventually becomes part of the daily routine:

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.


Ms. Mason often gave dinner parties — she ate lying down, with her guests around the table and the iron lung pushed up beside it — and savored lively conversation, good gossip and the occasional bawdy story. Amid the rhythmic whoosh ... whoosh of the iron lung, the local book club met in her home.

This was a good sentence to read too:
Ms. Mason’s only immediate survivors are her aides, Ginger Justice and Melissa Boheler, whom she considered family.
Hat tip: SDS-discuss listserve.