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PMS-Poor Me Syndrome

Updated on February 10, 2016

The Grace and Courage Of A Life Lived Well


Poor Me Syndrome

PMS. We all have dealt with it over the years. Here we are enjoying a perfect day then-BAM-there it is. The joy leaves and despair fills the heart, the eyes; the shoulders slump, the golden sun becomes tarnished. We have been struck with PMS. And it does not just target women-no, men are subject to its pervasive influence also.

This insidious syndrome can be overcome and defeated though. The cure is simple and within every person. It is courage! Poor Me Syndrome seems to have become an epidemic in our society. We hear people say “I cannot”, “It is out of my control”, “It is because I was deprived as a child”, “It is my parents fault”, “My health prevents me from accomplishing it” and a thousand other excuses. There is a big difference between a reason and an excuse and neither is strong enough to stop

the force of success that God has placed inside every person on this planet.

One shining example of this is Martha Mason. Martha was born in Lattimore, NC on May 31, 1937 and lived the normal life of a child. She rode her bike, went swimming with her brother and friends, caught lightening bugs in a jar and all the things that make up a little girl’s life.

Then in September 1948 when Martha was 11 years old, disaster struck the peaceful community of Lattimore, NC and the United States. It was an insidious disease called polio and it hit hard and fast. Martha’s beloved 13 year old brother Gaston fell ill and quickly died from the devastating illness. The day Gaston was buried, Martha played outside in the twilight catching lightening bugs with her friends. She felt achy and went inside to bed without telling her parents she didn’t feel well. She did not wish to grieve them on this terrible day they had buried their only son.

Martha never walked again. When the morning came, she was fighting for her life and was taken to Asheville where she was treated for polio and placed in an iron lung — a 7-foot-long, 800-pound iron cylinder that encased all but her head. Martha Ann Mason spent the next year in hospitals before being sent home in the iron lung where she spent the rest of her life. Doctors told her parents she would live another year at most.

However, Martha had a spirit of optimism and not despair. She survived, she later said, because she was endlessly curious and there was so much to learn. Martha’s mother, Euphra Mason, was devoted to caring for her daughter and spent countless hours holding books in the air so Martha could read them and turned thousands of pages that Martha memorized. With daily visits from her teachers, Martha resumed her studies, graduating first in her high school class. Years passed this way. When a paper was due, she would write the paper in her head and get her mother to write it down. The great thing about it is that she made an absolute, straight, clear 'A'. That is an indication of not only her brilliance as a student but her determination.

(At this time Martha could come out of the iron lungs for brief periods.) She accepted her diploma and made plans to attend college. She entered Gardner-Webb College in Boiling Springs, N.C., receiving an associate’s degree in 1958. Ms. Mason and her iron lung were transported by bakery truck to Winston-Salem, where she enrolled in Wake Forest College. Mason lived in faculty apartments with her parents, and she listened to lectures through an intercom system, while her mother took notes.

There, she joined a student group seeking to integrate the campus. . She went on to graduate first in her classes at Gardner-Webb and Wake Forest, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Wake Forest in 1960. During her graduation, she made a brief foray out of the iron lung to accept her degree. "I'm what goes on inside my head," she said in an interview.

Returning to Lattimore, Ms. Mason began writing for the local newspaper, dictating her articles to her mother. Not long afterward, Ms. Mason’s father, Willard, suffered a major heart attack and became an invalid, requiring Euphra to care for him, too. She now did not have time to take dictation. For decades afterward, Ms. Mason wrote only in her head, publishing nothing. Her father died in 1977. In the late 1980s, after a series of strokes, Euphra Mason descended into dementia and abusiveness, occasionally slapping and cursing her daughter. Ms. Mason insisted that her mother remain at home exercising the compassion and forgiveness that comes from unselfish love. From her iron lung, she took over the running of the household, planning meals, paying bills and arranging for her mother’s care. Soon two caretakers tirelessly took care of Martha and eventually became her only survivors.

If Ms. Mason could not go to the town, then the town was quite prepared to come to her. The doctor visited regularly as did all the neighbors and the neighbors’ neighbors. So did members of the local fire department, who came by during power failures to make sure her backup generator was working.

Martha gave dinner parties — she ate lying down, with her guests around the table and the iron lung pushed up beside. With the background whoosh ... whoosh of the iron lung, the local book club met in her home. High school graduates stopped by so she could admire them in their caps and gowns, as did just-married couples in their wedding finery. Souvenir magnets from faraway places, gifts from traveling friends, adorned the yellow exterior of Ms. Mason’s iron lung like labels on a steamer trunk.

Ever since the 1940s, Martha Mason dreamed of being a writer. But it was not till nearly half a century later, with the aid of a voice-activated computer, that she could begin setting a memoir down on paper. After her mother’s death in 1998, Martha began work on her book in earnest. With a microphone at her mouth and the pulse of the iron lung for company, she wrote her life story sentence by sentence in her soft Southern voice, with her own breath. She began the book in tribute to her mother.

Martha’s childhood friend and editor, former Davidson College English professor Charles Cornwell, encouraged her to write an autobiography. He was married to Patricia Cornwell, whom Mason has known since Cornwell reported for The Observer. He got his wife on board to get the book published however it never received national recognition. Published in 2003, Ms. Mason’s memoir, “Breath,” is not well known. Wake Forest awarded her its Pro Humanitate award that year. The book was published by a small regional house, Down Home Press, and was not widely reviewed. But the truly significant thing is that the book was written at all. 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." 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.”

She and her classmates celebrated the 50th anniversary of their intake. This time, a computer monitor and Webcam allowed her to be part of her class in a way she never was before. "It was set up so my computer monitor was even at the banquet," she said. "Of course, they all called and talked to me. ... I had all of these people and faces."

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

Mary Dalton, an associate professor of communications at Wake Forest, made a documentary, "Martha in Lattimore", which tells the story of Mason and her connection with her small hometown. Dalton's mother grew up near Lattimore, and Dalton had always heard about Mason, she said.

They clicked immediately and became close friends. People who didn't know Mason well often became wrapped up in her extraordinary achievements, Dalton said. But as a friend, Dalton thought more about how much she enjoyed talking to Mason and getting e-mails from her. "You don't think about the iron lung," she said. "That's exactly how she wanted it." Dalton's documentary explored Mason's daily life, which always included the comings and goings of friends. People in Lattimore made Mason a part of their lives. Dalton said, "They wanted to share things with Martha."

Martha Mason passed away in her sleep May 9, 2009. She was 71 years old and spent more time in an iron lung than any other known person.
Pastor Max Burgin, Lattimore Baptist Church said about Martha Mason:
"She had a strong heart for life. Even though she was a prisoner in the iron lung, her faith and knowledge of the Lord were constantly expanding. That iron lung did not contain her."

What contains you? What contains me? Only whatever we allow and today I hope we all decide nothing will contain us. We have total freedom to achieve anything at all. God’s Son Jesus Christ came and died to give us that amazing opportunity.

Do not allow the blinders of this world and the lies of satan hinder you from fulfilling the plan and purpose that God placed inside you. Get out of the iron lung that is holding you from your dreams and breathe freely and deeply of victory.

Update--Down Homw Press is no longer active but they have some hard copies of Breath that can be purchased by giving them a direct call. Ask for Jerry. A loyal follower said he found Breath at Barnes and Noble also. Additionally, the video "Martha in Lattimore", can be located for free download online at I hope you will be inspired and uplifted by Martha and her spirit of courage.


All photographs and text on this site are protected under United States and international copyright laws (© Brenda Barnes).


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