Review Posted by Judy 05OCT14
Recommend to others: Yes
Gail Thornton’s story ‘The Girl in the Iron Lung’, is both unusual and wonderful! Gail captures beautifully the mind and observations of hospitalization, serious and debilitating illness,and family life so well that we become the child she writes about. We live her fears, frustrations, disappointments, anger, and self doubt. Also, however, we rejoice with each small improvement, want to shout with her first steps, and feel as if we’re wrapped up in a cuddly blanket while holding our favorite stuffed animal when she finds the joy of happy human interactions and the moments of self-approval.
This is a MUST READ for any parent, doctor, nurse, or child care worker working with children. Once they have read it, they will see illness through different eyes… those of a frightened child, one who is very determined to overcome what was never asked for, but was given. With the new recognition of the need for new approaches towards patients, this book will create new insight into the importance of a more caring, more personal treatment plan. – especially toward those who are so young and do not understand what is happening around them.
For all other readers, we walk away with much compassion for this little girl, and thank our lucky stars. Our lives become easier, and we feel blessed, for even this 5 year old takes time to acknowledge the sunshine, to see the beauty of nature all around, and to unceasingly believe there are better days coming. One just has to set the goals and go after them. Indeed, this is a bittersweet but very moving memoir. Read it, then share it. You’ll be a better person for it.
Review Posted by Richard 15SEP14
Recommend to others: Yes
There are plenty of opportunities to weep, but this memoir is ultimately a story of triumph. Using her frightened little-girl voice, Thornton documents every harsh detail of terror she experienced after contracting polio, the ravages to her body and psyche, the isolation of being placed within an iron monster for weeks, and her excruciating recovery while being manipulated through physical therapy by well-meaning, but often scary adults. The hospital ward for paralytic children is bleak. A child with polio is completely dependent upon this cold, enveloping iron machine merely to survive long enough to breathe unaided, that is, for the fortunate. There are those who never escape this iron monster.
The Ponkapoag School, like most public elementary schools of the early 1960’s, was based upon the industrial method of teaching. An electric bell summoned children into the building for lessons in conformity, and released them to the hurley-burley of the playground for recess. There was no handicapped access to this old building, nor bathroom facility designed to accommodate someone like Gail. Between the bells the children sat at desks in four perfect rows of six, facing forward, hands folded, to receive a curriculum of rote learning – which included the stultifying adventures of Dick, Jane, Sally and Spot. Like the rhythms of the iron lung, the days repeated a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, the singing of “Good Morning, Sunshine!” and “My Country Tis of Thee”, the provision of coloring books and precisely allotted time to remain within the lines, and, those bells at exact times. The clocks moved too slowly for a normal child’s mind.
Of course, a child needs an elementary education among peers to become normal (whatever that means), and, for Gail, the cold, impersonal isolation of the iron lung becomes the impersonal isolation from classmates she perceives as mean-spirited and cruel in response to her disability. “Carrot Top” learns to breathe despite the cold isolation. The kind Dr. Trott of the bleak paralytic ward is replaced by the kind Mrs. Brown in her bleak school. Tommy, a boy destined forever to remain within the iron lung who had destroyed Gail’s proffered toys, becomes Anthony Torino, a bully who is chronically relegated by his ear, along with other miscreant “Ponky” boys, to the isolation of Mrs. Brown’s punishment corner. Taking her first unaided breaths outside of the iron machine becomes taking her first unaided steps up the big grey stairs to enter the school building, and later conquering the daunting interior stairs to the third and fourth grade classrooms.
As the years progressed, Gail seized every academic opportunity, but the only thing she could not overcome was the seemingly cold indifference of classmates – friendlessness. In the end she climbs mountains – perhaps the perfect metaphor for this book and the poetry she has since published- leaving that second iron monster behind, breathing deeply and unaided. This little book should be placed on the shelf between Gunther’s “Death Be Not Proud” and Golding’s “Lord Of The Flies.’ If I could turn the clock back to any of Mrs. Brown’s, Mrs. MacComber’s, Ms. Bowdoin’s, or Mrs. Croke’s classrooms, I would break the rules, get up from my desk, and give this lovely, ginger-haired, brave little girl a hug – but then this poignant memoir might never have been penned.
Review Posted by Valeria 17AUG13
Recommend to others: Yes
We all know tragedy can strike at anytime and in author Gail Thornton’s life it would take her on a lonely trail of doubt, fear, despair and nightmares from ages 4-12. Her diagnosis of polio that could and should have taken her life, looked her in the face and lost and today her memoir will depict the details of this battle and the roller coaster of emotions she and her parents endured. This must read book will change your life! Guaranteed. Yes, you will want to cry for her, but spiked through is a victory that will make you cheer from the housetop.
It made me understand the human spirit and will to survive more fully. Perhaps that is what separates the “can do” mentality from the “have nots”. Her life of private pain and entering the “dark places” would be an act she had to learn in order to endure. “If I felt really bad, I laid back my head and closed my eyes and went to my private place where I was safe and nothing could hurt me.”.
This is more than a memoir of an illness that left her wanting; rather, it is a depiction of the human spirit that would prevail above all else. Character is indeed forged through pain. Though it may appear mother was in denial a lot throughout her recovery my suspect was that it was not denial but a deep imbedded understanding of her child’s will to not only survive but thrive. Mother, wherever you are I salute you! “They said you wouldn’t live. They said you wouldn’t move. Then they said you wouldn’t walk. They should see you now, going to fifth grade all on your own!”.
With a full blast of emotions you will be taken at the end of her writing on a few adventurous outings that will make you wish you were literally there in person.
Gail Thornton is talented and, along with other books has a blog page well worth looking into. She has won my admiration as a writer, survivor, and life giver to others.
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