Martin Pistorius was just 12 years old when he became an unexpected and confusing medical mystery. Seeing doctor after doctor, each with their own diagnosis and medication, all to no avail. In the beginning, Martin was a boy of exceptional talent and an interest in electronics as he ran around the house fixing broken plugs and creating his own alarm system to protect his toy Legos from his little brother. An electric man, that’s what he wanted to be in the future, his ultimate dream. Then it all came crashing down when he came home one day looking worn out telling his mother that he had a fever, a common flu. Gradually he started sleeping for hours like an infant and eating significantly less.
Panic struck and doctors started testing him for every known disease and illness but all the results came back negative. Over the months and years, his body started to deteriorate as he couldn’t make eye contact, couldn’t move and then finally couldn’t speak. Everything that made Martin him was slowly shutting down. Then finally a test came back positive, for cryptocaccal meningitis which a disease where the meninges in the brain and spinal chord swell causing a compromised immune system for its host. Doctors explained that there was nothing they could do to help Martin and decided to discharge him from the hospital in order to “keep him comfortable till he died”.
“I’d travelled beyond what medicine understood. I was lost in the land where dragons lie and no one could rescue me.”
A year or two passed and he continued in his vegetative state; his parents would dress him in the morning, feed him, bathe him, drive him to his special care center and 8 hours later bring him back home. Three years passed: feed him, bathe him, and drive him. Five years passed: feed, bathe, drive. Eight, nine, ten years passed: feed, bathe, drive. This endless cycle went on and on for what felt like forever. Twelve years went by and everyone had lost all hope for the boy they once knew within that shell.
The world mourned for him each day without knowing that he’d been inside all along, waiting and yearning to come back. How can one survive and not go insane after years of being trapped? Well the answer to that question as said by Martin himself was the power of his thoughts to keep him company. It was very difficult and rage inducing in the beginning as the reality struck him that he might be stuck forever under lock and key in his own body. A sense of betrayal and fury burned him to his core as years went by, with his body continuously failing him. Later he said horrible thoughts fueled him every day, thoughts of being alone forever, being pathetic, being a failure. These thoughts consumed him with no chance of escape, unlike us he could not go for a quick run or rant to a friend as all he had was himself and not even death to relieve him of his painful life.
Barney reruns. Who knew the big purple dinosaur could bring him hope. His hatred towards the television show ran so deep that he wanted to know what time exactly the show would start and end, and since he was rarely sat across a clock, he took matters into his own hands. Within a few months, by configuring shadows of the sun, he successfully mastered the art of telling time. He regained hope once again and started turning on and listening to his thoughts once again. He had conversations with himself to pass the time and whenever a bad thought swooped by, he’d just shoo is away. He was finally in control and life had purpose once again.
He was in his mid-twenties when sensation of his body came back. For the first time in a decade he was able to squeeze people’s hands. Momentum built; he could flick his wrist, move his neck and slowly walking. A few years later he was once again a well-oiled machine, defying all odds, and continued to progress substantially. Now he talks through a computer. It was his thoughts that kept him sane the whole time, his thoughts that held him back when he wanted so badly to lean into the dark side, his thoughts and strong will that ultimately saved him. If it had been anyone else, who knows if they could have survived and kept mentally intact like Martin had, after years of torture Martin was once again Martin.
He was not always the resilient man that he is today, horrible thoughts consumed his brain for years and his ability to fight through it all still baffles psychologists and neurologists all around to this day. How did he accomplish this? Through positive thinking and utilising his imagination. Though it does not actually seem like a substantial form of treatment, much research has gone into this field. One such study conducted by researchers at the Institute for Work and Health in Toronto proved that patients less pain and faster recovery was strongly linked with the patient’s optimism, hope and ability to keep themselves productive. Time and time again have experiments proved this concept but Martin here takes it to a new level of resilience.
Image obtained by Martin Pistorius’ book “Ghost Boy”