Marjo Part 2: Keeping to a plan

Meal time
Marjo during meal time

I was woken up at 07:00, every morning my blood pressure and body temperature were taken, sometimes, maybe once a week a blood sample as well. After going to the toilet I was weighed, this was done by rolling off the bed onto a special balance. At 08:00 it was breakfast time. Then I normally tried to get a shower, which was not always possible (2 showers, 12 girls…). Nearly every day some kind of tests were done lasting between 15 minutes to 4 hours, such as bone density, electro cardiograms, interviews with psychologists, ultra sound of blood vessels… But I did have quite a lot of free time, roughly speaking 5 hours a day.

I was in control group, so no exercise or proteins added in my food. Therefore I had the maximum amount of ‘tranquillity’. Usually the tests were completed in the morning, so I had my free time in the afternoon, after lunch, which was at 12:00. After 16:00 we had a half-hour massage every day – a very highly anticipated moment! Then came the blood pressure and body temperature session again. At 19:00 we had dinner and free time after that for phone calls, Internet and movies.

I kept myself busy doing all kinds of things. I studied Spanish by myself as well as through a teacher who came twice a week, read seven books, refreshed my Swedish by reading a book in Swedish, classified 1500 emails, organised and selected a huge number of photos on my computer, surfed the Internet, looked for specific information on the Internet, wrote emails, called my family/friends through our great four hours of free phone calls per week, watched loads of good movies, watched some TV, read magazines, did my CV in both English and French, discovered the world of comic books and mangas (a brand new topic for me), and had quite a lot of interviews with European media. Well, I have to say I was busy!

Medical staff monitor
Marjo and the other participants were monitored closely by medical staff

I finished all the tasks I had set myself to do. My plan of achieving things during the bed rest was probably the main reason why I had such a positive experience. I kind of forgot my body for 60 days, and concentrated on intellectual activities.

I was in touch with family and friends all the time though emails and phone calls. I didn’t find it difficult at all to be away from them, mainly because I’m used to being far away in foreign countries, but also because we were able to be in contact as much as I wanted.

The staff at the centre helped me to feel at home, mostly by being very friendly, nearly parent-like. All discussions were possible and I felt as though I was listened to. I also found they had time to discuss things with me, despite their busy days

Strangely enough I didn’t find it difficult to not exercise. I find that interesting because I’m quite a lively person by nature. As I said, I forgot my body for 60 days, I prepared myself psychologically to do it and I think it was easier than I thought it would be. I wasn’t tempted once to get up!

I actually found it quite amusing to stay in bed for so long! ”Finally I can spend days in bed without feeling guilty about being lazy!” The only problem I had was back/shoulder/neck pain during the whole 60 days with varying intensity.

After 30 days in bed - the half way mark - I noticed for the first time that my leg muscles had decreased. I could see the bone and there was a gap between my bone and my muscle! It got only worse as the days went by. Other than that only minor changes - dry skin, impurities on the skin of my back, some weigh loss, pretty nails growing (some girls in the centre grew long nails for the first time in their life!), eventually every pore on my skin was screaming for fresh air…

Everything was done in the same position, head slightly downwards. It took some time to get used to it, but after the third day we were all experts already. You learn quickly through mistakes! For the toilet and shower we were pushed into a special room with a bed made for that purpose.

All of us ended up using a bedpan between the sheets; it was absolutely too much and unthinkable to ask for toilet bed ten times a day. Practise makes perfect in this matter as well. We could eat in two positions, on our side or on our stomach with a tray in front. I opted for ‘roman style’ since I could not stay on my back because of the pain.

The food in itself was not bad at all. Some meals were even excellent. My problem was when the same food came back again and again it turned out to be quite dull because of its monotony. We had two choices for each meal, but our dinner depended on our lunch choice. Altogether we had twelve different menus (combining lunch and dinner). We were supposed to eat everything we were given.

Metabolism test
Testing Marjo's metabolism

I shared my room with a Polish girl called Beata. We got along very well and I’m truly glad I shared my room with her. We also both had the same sleeping pattern which turned out to be an important matter during the 60 days.

We also got to know the other participants. The 20 first days in Toulouse we spent together on our feet, eating together in the dining room. We were also able to make free internal phone calls between the rooms and chat. I had a Sunday night tradition with my room mate to go and have our dinner in Elisabeth and Dorota’s room. So we were pushed in our beds into their room where we could exchange our experiences and have a good laugh. Occasionally I also visited other rooms.

A week before standing up I started to feel the excitement. All the scientific staff was back, the centre was full of people and I started to imagine what it would be like to be on my feet again. Before that I didn’t really think about it. It was definitely one of the best days of my life when I was allowed to stand up again!

The muscle biopsy was the hardest part of the study for me. It was seriously painful and very uncomfortable, although it was over quite quickly. It was taken twice and the second time I fainted. Not a good memory, but now it’s over and even that experience cannot discourage me: I’d do it again if I’d had to.

My back pains also disturbed me quite a bit from time to time. I completely lost my appetite and this has never happened before. I even lost my desire for chocolate. But rest assured, my appetite as well as my taste for chocolate has returned as good as ever!

The science was the best part of the study. I found everything very interesting, always having my one hundred questions ready for the scientists and they answered me very patiently. Learning so much about the human body, space science and scientific protocols in such a short time was a privilege. It felt like being in the first row of Discovery Channel!

I also very much enjoyed the multicultural, multinational and multilingual atmosphere and meeting fabulous and interesting people. I also learnt a great deal about myself, about my body as well as my mind. I could say that it was a fantastic personal journey at the same time. It is a very specific situation after all, being in a bed for 60 days whilst being completely healthy. This is why I wrote a diary every day.

This experience is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was so particular, extremely easy at times, at others seriously demanding. I guess that makes it so unforgettable, that full scale of different feelings and happenings. Like a small life.

Last update: 25 July 2005

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