Space | 06. June 2019 | posted by Bed-rest-study

AGBRESA – A participant's tale: Reaching the finishing line through sheer will power

Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)
The :envihab facility at the DLR site in Cologne

HDT 47. Forty-seventh day of bedrest. Another 13 days – and what's left of today. Yesterday I spoke with my wife on the phone. She still can't imagine what would possess a person to volunteer for 60 days in bed without even a pillow. “Do you never feel the urge to get up?” she asks. One of the support staff asked me a similar question just recently. With less than two weeks of bedrest left on the schedule it seems an apt time to answer this question. My summary is simple: it was exactly the way I imagined.##markend##

Acceptance and milestones

When I committed to the AGBRESA study – I believe an ability to commit is essential in life – my thoughts revolved around the sheer length of time I would remain in bed. I would be forbidden from getting up with my head inclined downward at an angle of 6six degrees as the icing on the cake. Though I knew that this set-up was of utmost importance for the data collected, the concept of 60 days shocked me. The information we received told us this would be the same day repeated 60 times over – a Groundhog Day of sorts. 'One day' sounds a lot less pernicious, and the only trick would be to manage the endless repetitions. So I came up with a couple of milestones to celebrate along the way: the first 10 percent after six days, the first week after seven, then the first double digits after 10 and the half-way mark after 30. So there would be plenty to celebrate along the way.

Strategies from endurance sport

Aside from all that, it wouldn't really be 60 days. I do a lot of endurance sports (namely cycling) so I know that the last few kilometres are just cruising if you pace yourself properly. You only need the willpower for 130 kilometres to manage 150; momentum takes care of the rest. This meant cutting the AGBRESA study from 60 days to 50 – a number that's just around the corner from day 40. So the half-way point would be on the day 20. Yet another reason to celebrate. Other causes for celebration regularly appeared during the bedrest: first one month and then another. It seemed like an endless succession of parties. I also noticed that you did not have to wait until the 'big day' itself, and that a feeling of buoyancy started to kick in a few days earlier: "tomorrow I can say that I've made it tomorrow." And so you rattle through the dawns and dusks of your groundhog day, gradually sinking into a new sense of time.

Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)
At a precisely six-degree incline: A participant's gurney in the AGBRESA bedrest study

The study lends structure

Recurring events lend structure to this routine – the morning measurement of vital functions, breakfast, then stretching, rides on the centrifuge and so on. The experiments scheduled at regular intervals make it easy to remember that the focus is on science. The investigators are an enthusiastic bunch and give us the sense of being part of a team and working on a mission. That quickly awakens my natural ambition to be as good at my new job as possible - and that means lying flat on my back. This form of existence becomes hewn in stone after a while so that the thought of furtively getting up on my feet – for instance in the unmonitored shower – seems quite simply absurd.

The motivational power of team bonding

Leaving the participants aside for a moment, a crucial factor in preserving motivation is the team – from our support staff to the doctors who care for us. Their unfailingly positive attitudes and kind attentiveness are remarkable. So it is perfectly clear that we will get the final 13 days under our belts as well. It is a valuable personal experience to notice yourself coping with a situation that seemed so marred by doubts in the beginning. A question I am hearing more often these days is: "Would you do it again?” To which I can only answer: faced once more with the choice of taking part in this study, my answer would be, without even the slightest hesitation: "Yes, I certainly would!"


About the author

How does microgravity affect the human body? And how can we counteract the negative effects? On Earth, bed rest studies are used to study the effects of microgravity on the human body in order to investigate reactions, effects and countermeasures. to authorpage

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