Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Fears and Realities

What were your childhood fears? Did you fear the monster under the bed, the Bogeyman in your closet or other things that went bump in the night. My friend, Ronald, feared the Frankenstein Monster.

Ofter the fears had some basis for existing. Perhaps the lose of a parent or parents getting divorsed. Certainly some of us feared the bully at school.

So many things we might choose to spook us and  in many cases our worse fears never came to be.

I certainly had a collection of such things, fear of heights and fear of the dark, but one of the specific fears I had, and almost forgotten about, was something I saw at the Carnival.

Circuses, Fairs and Carnivals were popular diversions back when I was a child. Some were big affairs, like Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey that traveled from city to city on a circuit each year, others were simple town fairs sponsored by the American Legior or Kiwanus Clubs. My nightmares started at a large Carnival, perhaps in Reading or Allentown, Pennsylvania and I was very young. It was either the late 1940s or early 1950s.

Carnivals had their own sideshows and oddity displays. I remember this was a trailer sitting alone
along the midway. My family took me it, going up some wooden steps to enter. In the center of the room was a large cylinder lying on a support and inside this object was a young woman. Only her head stuck out on one end. The rest of her was completely encased. There were glass windows along the side where you could see her body. Over her head was a mirror where she could see herself, or at least her face. She spoke, greeting people passing by her strange prison. This was an iron lung and it breathed for her.

I am not sure why such a contraption was on display at a Carnival. My guess is it was because on the then very prevalent Polio epidemic. The Salk Polio vaccine had not been developed yet. Its discovery came in 1952 and it was announced to the population in 1953.  Prior to that their were many people confined to an Iron Lung, the majority being children. Perhaps this display was to bring Polio to the public attention, although I doubt such attention was needed. It was a dreaded disease, much feared. The President in place when I was born had it, but he wasn't confined to an Iron Lung. His case of Infantile Paralysis. or Polio, put braces on his legs and sat him in a wheelchair, but did not cause him to be unable to breath on his own.

After I went through that carnival exhibit I had nightmares that went on for weeks, months. How horrible to live like that, locked away in a great tin can unable to walk about or anything. This idea of confinement became one of my greatest fears.

This fear never really left my mind. It did expand beyond the Iron Lung, a device you'd be hard pressed to find today. But the idea of paralysis did merge with that earlier sight. People sometimes broke their neck and couldn't move. I met such a fellow in my twenties, almost taking an offer to be his companion.

When I became a Born Again Christian in 1975, I received a copy of the book Joni from someone. This was the autobiography of Joni Eareckson (later Tada). Joni was a Maryland girl, born in 1949. She was quite an athlete as a teenager in several sports, including swimming. In 1967, still only 17, she dove into too shallow water of the Chestapeake Bay and broke her neck. She was left paralyzed from the sholders down. She went on to write several books, get married and form a Christian organization afterward. She is also an accomplished painter, holding the brushes between her teeth. She is very inspirational, but for me she brought back the images of the girl in the iron Lung and the horrible idea of not being able to move.

These earlier fears traveled to the back of my mind as I grew older.

The old images came flooding back after I saw the film, "The Diving bell and the Butterfly". This 2007 movie was based on the memoir if Jean-Dominique Bauby. He had been the Paris editor if Elle magazine, but he suffered a masive stroke that left him with Locked-in Syndrome. This meant he could move nothing, except his eyes and a bit of his face. He wrote his memoir by using a letter board. A person would call out the letters and he would blink when they called the one he wanted. By such a method he wrote his book. It took him ten months working four hours a day to accomplish it, but he did it. Unfortunately, he died only a couple weeks after the work was published. He was 44.

I though about this when my mother had her stroke. It hit her in a portion of the brain stem that could have possibly caused Locked-in Syndrome. It was bad enough. It made her left side of no use and left her unable to swallow.

What horrible fates, I thought.

Now here I am with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Lockein Syndrome is most likely my fate, if something else doesn't kill me first. This is the state Stephen Hawking is in. Yet, oddly, I have no fear as I had after the woman in the Iron Lung. In the movie. The Theory of Everything", young Hawking was depicted as depressed and distraught after his diagnosis, at one point smashing chair against a wall. I fell no such depression and I have smashed nothing, not yet anyway. I'm not happy about it, but figure I will just live my life best I can. They only part that really bothers me is the possibility I will lose the ability to swallow. My mother did and she had a feeding tube. I am not fond of that idea.

I seem to have been lucky. Below is a clip, a trailer for the movie. I wanted people to notice how he walks with his toes pointing inward. The clip below it is of me walking and my toes point out. This is a blessing for in pointing toes make for easy falling; out pointing give me more stability, for now anywa

The realities have chased away the fears. We only deal now with what is.


Jon said...

I had heard about iron lungs when I was a child (during the great polio era) but I never actually saw one until years later. The sight of this raw reality is unnerving for an adult. I can certainly see how it haunted you as a child.

My childhood fears consisted of clowns, puppets, and unknown things under the bed.

Your post reminded me of the ballet dancer Tanaquil Le Clercq, who was stricken with polio at the height of her career. There is a good documentary about her on PBS. I think it is from the American Masters series.

I haven't seen the film about Steven Hawking, but it looks very good. Thanks for sharing the clip.

Ron said...

I had a fear of being paralyzed also. A friend of my father's had also dived in shallow water and broke his neck. He was only 18 years old. I remember visiting him and how horrified I was at his condition. He lived a long time, dying in his sixties. His wife took care of him all those years. She just died recently. Her name was Betty Loveland. She was the sweetest person you would ever want to know. I just can't imagine living the life they lived. I consider myself so fortunate to have the life I have lived.