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Three Early Signs Bed Rest Wasn't Such A Good Idea

Bloody Marty
Rest can repair, but too much can destroy your body, Alexandra Freeman warns in this month's 'Harper's' cover story.

Alexandra Kleeman wanted to know what Victorian women went through when their doctors ordered them to stay still. So, she put herself on strict bed rest for five days at a convent in Washington. 

On Wednesday's "Think," Kleeman told Krys Boyd how she felt and what she discovered about the history of prescribing bed rest while researching a piece for "Harpers." 

Listen to the full conversation here. 

"I was very distressed to find myself growing [more] tired, more sore," Kleeman says of her stay in bed.  “It was a radical change in my body and I only experienced it for five days."

She dipped into the backstory of this still-accepted treatment for "The Bed Rest Hoax" and wondered how it ever continued in such excess:

 1891: Charlotte Perkins Gilman writes "The Yellow Wallpaper" to protest Silas Weir Mitchell's Rest Cure.

Gilman describes hallucinating as she stares at the wall, in the oft-studied short story. Her husband and physician took away Gilman's agency and invalidated her concern that the severe depression she suffered wasn't getting better with mandated bed rest. Kleeman found that denial of women's self-reporting is still common in doctor's offices today. 

1945: Injured WII veterans heal faster as they reasonably move through injuries.  

Doctors found that getting out of bed sooner was better for these wounded vets, expanding suspicion about the merits of bed rest from the psychiatric realm into wider medicine. 

1960s: NASA begins to imitate gravity by tilting the head of a bed back about 6 degrees and committing research subjects to bed rest. 

“Bed rest [became] viewed as an actual intervention into the way the body worked, instead of just a neutral thing or a helpful rest period for the body to start to heal," Kleeman says. 

Listen to "Think" at noon and 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday on KERA 90.1 or stream the show. 

Lyndsay Knecht is assistant producer for Think.