She didn't walk for 3 months, but her story had legs online

ON BLOGS

May 14, 2006|By TROY MCCULLOUGH | TROY MCCULLOUGH,SUN COLUMNIST

After nearly three months of voluntary bed rest, Erin Peterson will stand up tomorrow and walk. She expects to be dizzy. She'll might need help to keep from falling over. Her feet will probably hurt.

Regardless of the outcome, Peterson's first small steps since Feb. 20 will also be marked by thousands of supporters who have been following her exploits on her blog, Stardust Holiday (stardustholiday.blogspot.com).

Peterson has been participating in a NASA-sponsored bed-rest study to track the effects of long-term weightlessness on the human body. For 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she has been confined to a bed in the Cleveland Clinic with her head slightly lower than her feet to simulate weightlessness. She has spent her days knitting, reading, talking to visitors - and sharing her experiences with the world through her blog.

"Before I `went to bed' on February 20, I was doing two jobs - temping and as a cashier six or seven days a week - with no chance of promotion, and having a miserable time of it," Peterson wrote in an article for the Financial Times. "I wanted to go back to college and get a degree, but the money just wasn't there. I was 21 and could see myself stuck in this cycle for the rest of my life. I wanted a drastic change in my life, and this was exactly what I was looking for."

But make no mistake - three months of constant bed rest is no easy feat.

Peterson has suffered from intense bouts of nausea, muscle soreness and insomnia. She's undergone two very painful muscle biopsies as part of the study. And, maybe hardest of all, she's had to confront the psychological effects of confinement, loneliness and boredom.

"I just startled myself out of an almost asleep weird dream phase with the thought of `this is my normal life. I haven't been out of bed in nearly three weeks, and that is perfectly normal for me,'" she wrote early one morning in March during a bout of disorientation. "conversely, I'm still experiencing the dreamstate confusion of `is this real? this can't really be real, so when am I waking up out of this? and where on earth might I be when I do wake up? hey! HEY! wake up! c'mon, get out of bed! are you sick? are you dying? why are you still in bed?!'"

Over the past several weeks, she's told curious readers about a visit from an astronaut, described having a CNN camera crew hovering over her, and explained how she bathes.

And she hasn't been shy about revealing some of the more uncomfortable realities of confinement: "ok, first off, not liking the bathroom situation here. and there's nothing that can really be done about it. and its embarrassing to have to call someone every time you have to pee. it really is."

Going in, Peterson viewed the study as a financial opportunity - she says she's earning three times as much as she would have in her other jobs - but beyond the money, she says she was drawn to the idea of being a part of an important NASA study.

"this is my contribution to science, the space program, and humanity in general," she wrote on her site. "when we finally put people on mars, I was most definitely a part of it."

troy.mccullough@baltsun.com

Listen to Troy McCullough's podcasts at baltimoresun.com/onblogs.

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