There are few feelings in the world that are worse than being trapped. Whether it’s a simple fear of physically constrictive surroundings or it’s a prison sentence, humans are naturally averse to being cooped up without the ability to get free.
There are many ways a person can experience this sensation. For example, somebody who is in the midst of an abusive relationship or stuck in a dead-end job can often feel trapped.
Imagine, then, the horror of being trapped inside your own body. That’s what happened to one young man for 13 years, and how he found himself in that situation should serve as a warning to everyone…
Martin Pistorius seemed normal and healthy enough when he was a child. It was the early 1980s, and just like other kids, he loved tinkering with electronics and watching cartoons. Unfortunately, he had no idea how quickly things would turn before he even entered his teenage years.
One day, Martin complained that he had a sore throat. It started like any other ordinary sore throat, but it progressed each day until it started to become clear that he may never feel healthy ever again.
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A doctor diagnosed Martin with cryptococcal meningitis, which was a rare form of tuberculosis that affected the brain and deprived Martin of his motor skills. Eventually, he lost his ability to speak and even to make eye contact.
Joan and Rodney Pistorius, Martin’s parents, had no choice but to accept their son’s fate: not only would he become what some might call a “vegetable,” but he would likely die at an early age. They had no idea how to handle this news…
One could only imagine how difficult it must’ve been for not only Martin—who was trapped in his own body—but for his parents. To watch their son suffer and devoting themselves to his constant care was excruciating. Rodney had to wake up every two hours each night to turn Martin over so he wouldn’t get bed sores.
After a few years, Martin’s parents became exhausted, so they arranged for their son to be taken in during the day by a care center. Starting at 5 a.m., he’d visit the center. After that, he’d be bathed, fed, and put to bed by Joan and Rodney at home.
It was difficult enough for Rodney, but Joan was particularly frustrated by the experience of having to take care of her ailing son. It clearly took a psychological toll on them, and she and her husband were trapped in their own frustration at not being able to help their child. One day, she even snapped at Martin and said, “I hope you die!” thinking he had lost his hearing ability. He hadn’t.
By the time Martin was 16 years old, he started to become somewhat more conscious of his surroundings and the people around him, even if he still couldn’t speak. He heard everything that was going on around him, and what his mother said was understood loud and clear…
Despite the fact that he still couldn’t move or speak, Martin regained his awareness. He also came to the realization that he was growing into adulthood. After all, his illness started when he was just 12, and he was still growing physically.
In many ways, this consciousness was more of a curse than a blessing. For example, his family would often completely ignore him, looking right past him while they were in the same room as him. It was as if he didn’t exist.
Becoming trapped in his own body only got worse and worse as the days went by. As hard as he may have tried, there was nothing Martin could do to get his family’s attention to let them know that he understood them. It was truly an absolute nightmare for the young man.
Martin tried his best to ignore everything that was happening to him and going on around him. Yet that was easier said than done, as he was forced to sit in front of the television for hours on end watching nothing but Barney & Friends.
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It got much worse than that. At his day care center, he was physically abused by the staff; all of them were under the impression that Martin couldn’t process any of the things they were doing to him. Even that wasn’t the worst of it, though…
One female staff member abused Martin sexually, molesting him and straddling him to simulate sex. Between this torture and his mother’s torment, to say that Martin was completely miserable would’ve been a severe understatement.
Martin tried to feel more sympathetic toward his mother, and he generally started to think more positively. This positive thinking may have helped him heal physically as well, because soon enough, he started to move again! It started when he twitched his fingers; later, he was able to respond to what people said to him.
By the time Martin turned 25, he was on track to becoming “normal” again. He still had to stay in a wheelchair, but otherwise, he was totally conscious and he could move about quite a bit, although he still suffered limitations.
Amazingly, in 2009, the same year that Martin started to show significant signs of recovery, he got married to a wonderful woman named Joanne. They now live in Harlow, Montana, but despite this progress, Martin still has a lot of work to do to overcome his disability.
For example, Martin now uses a voice synthesizer to speak out loud. He also had to relearn many things that were lost in his years of illness, such as basic mathematics and the alphabet, all without full mobility.
Funally, Martin was able to get a real sense of mobility by learning how to drive a specially customized car, and he was taught by a special instructor. Soon enough, he was able to pass his driving test with flying colors!
Martin wanted to help other people learn to get through the unique challenges in their own lives, so he wrote a book, using speech-to-text technology, about everything he experienced during his 13 years of serious illness.
After working hard on every part of the book, Martin’s autobiography, entitled Ghost Boy, was finally published in 2011 to excellent reviews and commercial success. It went on to become an international bestseller.
Martin’s public recognition didn’t end there, as he was invited to be a speaker at the Kansas City TEDx Talk in 2015. The entire 14-minute speech was performed using a special computer program, and it was met with a standing ovation.
Currently, Martin is finding great success as a web designer and developer. He’s forgiven those who have hurt him, including his mother, as he believes that she was only expressing her frustration and not hatred.
It’s hard to imagine that something so torturous could happen to someone for such an extended period of time, but Martin got through it. Hopefully, we can all learn a lesson or two from him!
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