When Andrew Iwanicki lost his job in August, he probably expected to be spending a lot of time in bed. Little did he know that he’d actually be paid to do it. The very next day, he received an offer to join a NASA study that required him to lie in bed for three months straight, in exchange for a whopping $18,000!
“My bed is in the NASA Flight Analog Research Unit in Houston, Texas, where I’m being paid $18,000 to lie down for 70 days while NASA researchers study me,” he wrote. “I have been in this bed for three weeks now, and I will be here for seven weeks more.”
Andrew explained that the study – CFT 70 (Countermeasure and Functional Testing in Head-Down Tilt Bed Rest Study) – is part of a three-year effort to learn about bone and muscle atrophy in space. The team of NASA researchers have studied 54 people so far, and Andrew is the last participant.
“I had applied to the study a year earlier on a whim, assuming I’d never be chosen from the pool of 25,000 applicants and I’d never be able to halt my hectic life for 15 weeks,” he explained. But as fate would have it, he suddenly found himself with an empty schedule and an offer in hand.
“I decided that I needed a break,” he wrote. “So I put my life on hold and flew to Houston two weeks later. As I lie here, I can’t quite decide if I’ve struck gold with this scheme or if I am just a fool willing to do anything for a stack of cash.”
As it turns out, staying in bed is a lot more difficult than you’d expect. Andrew isn’t used to such long periods of inactivity. Prior to the study, he trained rigorously and even completed his first Ironman race. And now that he’s completely bedridden, he’s worried that his body might fall apart completely. His experience at the research centre has actually been far from pleasant.
Andrew was first put through a three-week ‘pre-bed rest’ period, during which he had to get used to the new routine, exercise regimen and food intake. In the first few days, he also had to go through a bunch of body scans, physical tests, bloodwork and urine exams. He recalls the ‘Muscle Twitch Test’ in particular, describing it as the most excruciating of all: “In layman terms, they shocked the fuck out of my leg some 20 times to see how hard I would kick. After the fifth shock, I was wincing and cursing; by the tenth, I was wishing eternal damnation upon all of NASA.”
But Andrew got used to the tests pretty soon, and decided that it was a welcome change after his old job. “After years of working hard and seeking illusive answers to abstract questions, it was comforting to simply follow orders and enjoy the ample free time,” he explained.
Just as he was getting accustomed to his new lifestyle, the pre-bed test phase was up and it was time to start the real ordeal – spending 70 days in bed. “I gathered and arranged all that I could put within arm’s reach of my bed. I used a proper toilet one last time. I looked out of the window for a final view of the outside world. Then, it was time to go head-down.”
Andrew was placed in a bed that tilts at a six-degree angle, which he says is extremely uncomfortable. “Every time I turned or twitched, I slid towards the headboard and, within a few minutes, was slammed against it with my neck turned sideways. To resist the gravitational pull, I laid as still as possible, but then the back pain began to set in.”
He spent the first five days experiencing terrible headaches, neck and back pain, not to mention he couldn’t sleep very well. The worst of all, though, was moving bowels: “The digestive system is not as effective without gravity on its side. It’s impossible to maintain even the slightest bit of dignity while crapping in a horizontal position; doing so simply defies the human anatomical design.”
“As I struggled on my little plastic shit pot, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the fact that my new bathroom was also my dining room, living room, and bedroom for the next two months,” he joked.
But a week later, Andrew slowly began to adapt to his new lifestyle. The physical pain subsided and he managed to entertain himself by reading and watching TV shows. He still finds it difficult to drink anything, and he thinks he’s losing flexibility every day, but over all, he wrote that he feels surprisingly good.
Once he started to settle in, he began to observe the rest of the ‘veteran’ test subjects who had arrived before him. He realized that they each had their reasons for being there: “One was working on a novel while he earned enough money to buy his first motorcycle; another had a baby on the way and wanted to put some extra cash away before the delivery.”
He noted that the study attracted a lot of gamers: “it serves as an ideal environment for escaping into the digital world without the usual responsibilities of daily life.” There was this one guy who was there for his third NASA bed rest study, he’d been supporting himself for years from the money he earned there and at several other research facilities across the country.
For his part, Andrew is trying to make the most of his leisure time – he’s resumed his schedule of GRE and LSAT studies. And although he expects to hit a few ‘unforeseen demons’ in the next two months, for now he feels ‘cautiously optimistic’.
Photos: Andrew Iwanicki