To date, the longest period of time I have spent in bed is probably no more than 12 hours. I usually sleep for about eight hours and then I’m out of bed within the first 15 minutes after waking. I rarely eat in bed, I have never defecated in bed, and I have definitely never bathed in bed. From July 31 to October 23, I will be doing all these things in bed. These and other things. I will be bedridden, and I have longed for the opportunity. My home will be a room in the Cleveland Clinic. I will lie down on a Monday morning and not rise until 12 weeks later. During this time, my head will be six degrees lower than my feet, I will urinate in a bottle, and I will play hundreds of games of online Scrabble. It will all be in the name of science.
NASA is conducting a study to document, as best they can, the effects of inactivity on a person, specifically on muscle and bone. There will be 12 sessions in this study, each installment involving two human subjects in bed for three months. In total, 12 of them will be inactive for that time, and 12 will be put on a daily exercise program. I do not know yet which group I will be in. All 24 subjects will be in the head-down position (in which one’s head is six degrees lower than one’s feet) for 84 days.
The tests done on me before, during, and after this bed-rest session will give scientists a greater understanding of bone loss and muscle atrophy, so that we might put astronauts on Mars. I will remain sedentary so that others might go the greatest distance yet. I am permitted to read, write, use a computer, and watch TV. Those are the things I can do. I am forbidden, however, from straying from protocol. Protocol says I cannot put pressure on the bottoms of my feet or pick my head up. This means I will use bedpans, inflatable bathtubs, and rubber-pronged grabbing tools to perform my daily functions. While I am allowed visitors, none of these visits are to be of the conjugal variety. I will be monitored constantly by a surveillance camera.
Almost everybody says the same thing when I tell them about this: “You’re crazy.” I understand why they would think that, but I think they’re being obtuse. Like millions of other people, I have been either working or going to school full-time for the past 20 years. During this period, I have pushed aside great plans, giant tasks, to focus on that which took up most of my waking hours, that which I didn’t particularly care about. Here will be at least 84 days of my life in which I get the opportunity to focus on my personal projects: reading, writing, thinking, studying, learning. Though I will be under unblinking surveillance by hospital staff, I will not have any priorities that are not created by myself. This is what originally attracted me to the study. Instead of letting days get away from me as they do now, I will be able to squeeze every second from 84 of them.
Will I get bored? Yes. Will I lose sight of the end? Occasionally. Will this be everything I thought it would be? We’ll see. In these dispatches, I hope to chronicle the high and low tides, the thoughts and feelings that come from elation or depression, and all the experiences of a man who is voluntarily bedridden in the name of science.