To say the least, 28-year-old Drew Iwanicki took an uncommon path to making some extra cash. Last year, he was a part of a NASA study that paid him $18,000 to lie down in bed for 70 days straight. The study, titled “CFT 70 (Countermeasure and Functional Testing in Head-Down Tilt Bed Rest Study),” aimed to learn more about how human bone and muscle might deteriorate in space.
In 2013, Iwanicki came across a Reddit post advertising the NASA study and applied out of boredom. He told NextShark about the initial process:
“I assumed that I would never hear anything about the study. But, sure enough, within a week I got a response from the NASA research team following up and asking for some more information. Then I went through probably 20 to 30 pages of my medical history, my family’s medical history. Then they asked that I fly out to Texas for a physical examination.”
From there came a long period of waiting and traveling for examinations. A year from the time he applied, Iwanicki seemed to have lost all hope of getting selected. In August 2014, Iwanicki was unexpectedly laid off from his job as an artist manager. Serendipitously, he received the offer letter to join NASA’s bed rest study the very next day.
Instead of trying to find a new job, Iwanicki decided he needed a break and accepted NASA’s offer, making it the very first research study he’s ever participated in. Prior to Iwanicki, there had been 54 participants in the study; Iwanicki would be the last participant for the whole study, chosen out of a pool of 25,000 applicants.
“It was kind of perfect timing where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. Then I saw this crazy opportunity to do a once-in-a-lifetime thing, make a good chunk of money, and also take a step back and reflect on what I wanted my next move to be.”
Iwanicki told NextShark that the first five days in bed were the most difficult for him because his mind and body were adjusting to a whole new environment:
“I’ve never had any serious type of hospitalization, so the idea of bed rest was a very foreign idea. Then the fact that I was not able to sit up makes it more extreme. Physically, it was a painful experience; the body is not used to laying down for extended periods of time.
“I experienced some serious headaches because the blood pressure increased in my head. My spine went through some serious pain. Staying horizontal is difficult. I’ve been told that it is difficult for the spine to deal with all the pressure of the organs lying on the spine throughout the day.”
Iwanicki was not allowed to lay down flat like people might normally do. His bed was tilted at a negative six-degree angle with his feet over his head. Fortunately, Iwanicki was allowed to turn to his side and stomach:
“In the first couple of days, I would curl into the fetal position so I could extend my back and release some of the pressure. I spent most of my day rolling over from my back to my stomach to change things up and relieve some of the pressure on my spine.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, Iwanicki also had to follow a strict sleeping schedule. He explained:
“I was on a regimented sleep schedule. Lights out at 10 p.m., lights on at 6 a.m. No napping allowed during the day, which is one of the cruelest jokes about being stuck in bed all day, not being able to nap.”
Iwanicki was monitored via camera 24/7, and the only private time he had was when he needed to urinate or defecate. In order to be able to do so, Iwanicki would push a button, which would summon a nurse to come close the curtains for him. He would then be able to relieve himself in a “pee jug” or a bedpan while lying down.
Iwanicki explained that privacy was one of the things he grew the most appreciation for during his participation:
“The door to my room was always open, so if I was having a serious or difficult conversation on the phone, certainly the nurses could hear everything that was being said. It was just something I came to terms with.”
When asked how he showered, Iwanicki said:
“There was a room that they set up for showers, and I would come in and they’d wheel me over to the shower room where they had a plastic bed set up that I could shower on, and then I had a handheld shower head. So they would shut the door to the place and there was no window to see in or anything like that. I would shower myself.”
To pass the time, Iwanicki read books, studied for the LSAT, played “Starcraft” and went on the internet, which he said was “average but good enough to stream movies on Netflix.”
“I had a bedside table where I could keep a lot of my things. There was a bracket which could hold my laptop. I would clamp my laptop in and hold it over my head. I would be lying on my back and looking up at my laptop screen; it was pretty comfortable and convenient. But after using the computer for a long period of time — I would be holding my arms up in the air, so they would get sore after a while — I would have to take breaks to stretch out my arms and muscles.”
Iwanicki’s girlfriend also came to visit once, but their physical interactions were greatly limited. She wasn’t allowed to be on the bed with him or be intimate.
“We were allowed to touch each other as far as hold hands, but we weren’t allowed to be intimate. There was another bed in the room and I asked if she could wheel that bed over and we could lay on it so at least we’re both at the same angle and she could look straight at my face, but they wouldn’t even allow that. So basically for the three days that she came to visit, she just sat in the chair next to my bed.
“There were some tears and certainly some frustrations during her visit, but I think it was still worth it anyhow. The other part that was hard about that was we had adjusted to this lifestyle where we communicated through Skype and talk on the phone a lot, and then to get the opportunity to see each other and then realize it was going to be another two months before we’d see each other face to face was difficult.”
The couple weren’t even allowed to share a meal since guests were not permitted to bring outside food into the unit. However, Iwanicki’s girlfriend may not have been missing much — according to Iwanicki, the food was “basically cafeteria food” and had all been calculated and measured down to the calorie by a dietician so that he would neither gain nor lose weight during the study. He explained:
“I went into the study at 200 pounds and I left the study at 200 pounds three months later. Some of the other restrictions for the diet were that it had to be very low in salt content. Overall the food was decent.
“As difficult as it was to eat soup lying down, there was a potato soup that I really liked. There was another day that I would get with grilled cheese with tomato soup and I am a sucker for that. Actually the hamburgers were pretty good. I didn’t like the breaded fish cooked in a microwave; it was extra funky.”
“I was allowed 30 minutes to put myself up on my hands and elbows, and I would be allowed to extend my arms above my head, keeping my elbow all the way out and keeping my head up. I was not even allowed to bring my elbow directly below my head and hold myself up further. They were super strict with regulations.”
“It was a little bit difficult in that food just sits in your chest because usually you are sitting up while you eat so you have gravity pushing the food down into your stomach and digestive system. But when you are laying down, it just lingers around your chest area. You get full quickly.
“You had to clean your plate with no bites left behind. If there were some ketchup on the side, you had to use every bit of ketchup. There were times where some of the condiments came out in funny amounts because they were calculating calories and nutrients. I would get French toast in the morning and they would bring me about four times the syrup that I wanted to use. There were a couple of occasions where I thought that I finished my breakfast and used enough of the syrup but they took a look at my plate and they would tell me to take a shot of syrup and finish my plate after I already had finished the meal.”
When asked how the numbers worked out in terms of pay, he said:
“The total, it came out to exactly $17,800 for 108 days, because there is a pre-bed rest period and a post-bed rest period. So, I showed up to NASA three weeks before going into bed rest. I went through a bunch of different testings both before I went into bed rest and after I got out of bed rest so they could look at the differences three weeks prior to bed rest and two weeks after bed rest.”
While $17,800 sounds like a lot of money, Iwanicki calculates he was paid only $10 for every hour he was awake. However, all expenses like accommodation, food and healthcare were covered during the study. He was paid every two weeks via direct deposit. He said:
“The money I made there went straight to the bank — and for taxes unfortunately. It was sad at the end of the year when I had to cough up $5,000.”
Participants of the study were allowed to leave at any time if they didn’t want to continue with the program. They would simply be paid the hours worked up to the point they quit. However, Iwanicki told NextShark that of the 55 people that participated, none voluntarily quit before the study was over:
“The people who showed up made it for the long haul. There were a couple they had to release from the study due to medical reasons. One guy could not normalize his heart rate in bed rest after exercise, so because of that they had to release him because of health concerns.”
On December 2, 2014, the study finally ended and Iwanicki was able to stand for the first time in 70 days. He recounted his experience in a post on Vice:
“As soon as the bed was tilted to the vertical position, my legs felt heavier than ever before. My heart started to beat at 150 BPMs. My skin became itchy; I was covered in sweat. Blood rushed into my legs, expanding the veins that had become increasingly elastic throughout the past several months of bed rest. I felt like I was going to faint.
“I was fighting to remain standing from the start, and it only became more difficult. Around the eight-minute mark, my pulse dropped from 150 down to 70. My body was about to collapse. As my vision started to go black, the staff saw my numbers drop on the machines and promptly returned the bed to the horizontal position.”
No matter how difficult the experience, Iwanicki doesn’t regret his decision to do the study:
“I find myself attracted to these environments of deprivation, in part because it helps me appreciate what I have. I’ve always been somebody that thinks the grass is greener on the other side; it’s just better for me to go to the other side to test it out. In this case I knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience, but I also had a tangible understanding that I was going to come out with a new appreciation for my normal life.
“I can still remember that first moment when I first left the hospital and just felt sunlight on my skin for the first time in two and a half months and I had the biggest smile on my face. To be able to be outside, feel the sun, feel a breeze and not be under fluorescent lights just felt so good. To come home, I remember having fries and ketchup and it being so good. The first beer I had, the first nachos I had, the first burrito I had, it was all so good. Everything had a new shine to it.”
Since the study ended, Iwanicki has been bitten by the research study bug and continues to find and participate in paid research studies. When asked what it takes to be chosen as a participant, he said:
“You have to be very healthy. You have to have a completely clean bill of health. You have to be completely clean of any drugs; they test for alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. You can’t even be taking applied vitamin pills.
“It’s pretty tricky to get in there, and there’s also a big market of people that are trying to get in these studies — it’s a good way to make money, especially for people that aren’t very qualified for other work. I’ve met some crazy characters in these studies. You can also have a criminal record and they don’t really care. It’s a good way for a felon to make legal money.”
Currently, Iwanicki is studying for the LSAT with plans to go to law school and manage artists in the music industry, which is his passion. Follow him on Twitter.