Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Sessions : In and Out of An Iron Lung

I recently watched The Sessions, a movie about Mark O'Brien, who was a polio survivor who spent his nights and some of his days in an iron lung.

Oh and by the way, he also was a published poet and journalist who graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and attended a graduate program in journalism there.  As is too often the case with people with severe disabilities, the iron lung part appears prominently up front. Ironically, it was the last thing viewers saw in the  movie as well.  Not a surprise to this  quad.

I know something about iron lungs. I was an aide years ago to a woman who also slept in one, before I acquired my disability.  I got Andy ready for bed and put her in the yellow metal heaving iron lung at night.  I spent many nights sleeping in a chair by her during storms when there might be a power outage....or we just got to talking and I didn't want to bother to go home at 3 a.m.  And, yes, sometimes we talked about sex. We were both in our early 20's, so of course we did. Inevitably she would look over at me and ask "Do you think anyone would fit in here with me?" and we'd crack up laughing.

The Sessions is about how Mark went to see a sex surrogate, played by Helen Hunt.  His sessions were done out of the iron lung, obviously, but since he didn't have a bed in his room at home, they took place at first in a friend's home and then at a motel.  And they were limited to six, long enough for him to work on body awareness and sexual issues and move on to another relationship - which he did.

The movie also includes conversations and confessions Mark had with a Roman Catholic priest, who listened patiently as Mark tried to decide what to do about 'knowing a woman in the Biblical sense'.  His stalwart aide transported him back and forth to the sessions, notwithstanding narrow elevators and changes of plans.  

I loved the humor in this film and the sweet and sensitive awakening that took place not only during the sessions but between Mark and everyone in his world - as he spoke to his aides, friends, confidantes about what he was doing.  This movie screams how important it is for people with disabilities to be seen as sexual beings, to be respected as adults and treated like one, and to be - well- cherished in intimate ways.

Andy would be proud.  Maybe it is true that no one could fit in her iron lung.  But perhaps- just perhaps - we should have considered buying her a futon.

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