Firefly Pointer Fiberglass Jacket: The Iron Lung

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Iron Lung

 Lately I've been really into Radiohead. I've liked them for years but lately they've been on heavy circulation. OK Computer was always my favorite album but these days I'm really into their album "The Bends." The song "My Iron Lung" is a song I'm loving right now. I decided to finally see what an "iron lung" is. This started a whole fascinating exploration for me that went on for hours and hours.

 An iron lung is a negative pressure ventilator that consists of an airtight metal tank that encloses all of the body except the head and forces the lungs to inhale and exhale through regulated changes in air pressure. Aside from the modified version, biphasic cuirass ventilation, this equipment has largely been superseded by positive pressure ventilation.

 Being a young person raised with Polio vaccines and advanced medical science, things as archaic as an iron lung were never seen or known by me. The two most fascinating things to me were : all the different old mechanized respirators people used to help them breathe, and the fact that today 30 people in the United States still use iron lungs. At this point, using an iron lung for artificial breathing is beyond out dated. Not only that the company who made the iron lung stopped servicing them completely when they were bought out over 30 years ago.

 I find pictures of patients in iron lungs fascinating...but I also find them tragic. These people aren't getting to live as full of a life; and they literally have a very limited perspective of the world. How much living can you do laying down in a restrictive machine all your life?

Reporter Drew Pearson tries out an Iron Lung while promoting the March of Dimes. 

Includes an interview with Betty Grant, a young mother who was a polio victim. Shows preparation for getting in the iron lung, and what it's like to live and function in an iron lung.

Oct. 12, 1928: Iron Lung, Savior to a Generation

A man in an iron lung with his wife, children, and father.

Screen shots from the Both Mechanical respirator training videos showing all the different types of respirators. 

Here is a video on how to operate an Iron Lung and how to care for the patient inside it.

The Both Mechanical Respirator

Martha Mason has been in an iron lung for 60 years.

"To me it's such a normal thing...I don't even think about it."

Diane Odell been in an iron lung since the age of 3.

Even though there are alternatives for artificial respiration, she chooses to live her life laying down permanently in an iron lung. She has been in an iron lung for over 50 years. 

"They would push our iron lungs close together so we could 'play' together. And our playing together consisted of our spitting at each other. Because we couldn't do anything else."

Sadly, Diane later died when a power outage prevented her iron lung from functioning.

Ed Roberts was diagnosed with Polio in 1953, he has been in an iron lung ever since.

Conversation between Ed Roberts and Robert Ferrand about the Iron Lung.

"We take for granted that we can breathe and walk. The iron lung has made the quality of my life better. Technology is making our lives a lot more free."

Ed Roberts: Free Wheeling

Ed Roberts was the first student with severe disabilities to attend the University of California, Berkeley. He was a pioneering leader of the disability rights movement.

 Ed Roberts is often called the father of the disability rights movement. His career as an advocate began when a high school administrator threatened to deny his diploma because he had not completed driver's education and physical education. After attending the College of San Mateo he was admitted to the University of California, Berkeley. He had to fight for the support he needed from the California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to attend college because his rehabilitation counselor thought he was too severely disabled to ever get a job. Ed passed away March 14, 1995. 
More at: Ed Roberts (activist) on Wikipedia


bob o said...

You have an interesting blog post!

When I was very young and visiting a neighbor in the hospital, I saw two yellow Emerson tank respirators setting along the wall in a corridor and have been fascinated (and somewhat scared) by them ever since. I have included three of my very favorite antique-respirator links just in case you haven't seen these web pages. Thanks. Bobby.

Anonymous said...

Like Bobby, I too have been fascinated by iron lungs since I first saw one in an encyclopedia over 40 years ago. I've had the opportunity to be put into one on a couple of occasions (a friend has restored two of them for museum purposes). It's going to sound very odd, but being in an iron lung was, for me, one of the most relaxing experiences I've ever had. Of course, being 60 years distant from the horrors of polio epidemics takes some of the fear away, I think. Once you settle in and get used to the machine breathing for you (took me about 15 minutes), you sort of begin to float--the rhythm of the machine itself, the accompanying "whoosh" of the bellows, and the hum of the motor are almost hypnotizing; and if the negative pressure/breathing rate are adjusted properly, you can almost be taken to the edge of hyperventilating. It's actually quite a rush! The longest I've been in one was about four hours (time constraints forced me out--I'd love to have gone longer).

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