The rocking bed was a piece of equipment used in rehabilitating patients who had formerly been in an iron lung due to paralyzed breathing muscles (at first mostly from polio). It is a hospital bed that rocks the patient as if they were lying on a seesaw; head up and feet down, then feet up and head down. Gravity helps the patient breathe -- as the feet go down, the internal organs move toward the feet and the lungs expand. When the head goes down, the internal organs move toward the head and push the air out of the lungs. These beds also help circulation and provide a little more freedom of movement for those whose limbs aren't paralyzed.

As the first step out of being confined in an iron lung, it was a difficult situation. The rocking often made patients dizzy, and must have felt a little scary for someone who could not breathe on their own to be outside the familiar pressure of the surrounding machine. It also had the same problems if the electricity went out as did the iron lung. However, it made personal care much easier, and some patients were lulled to sleep better by the rocking.

A part of rehabilitation would usually be to reduce the amount of swing in the bed; the decreased dipping would provide less assistance to the patient's breathing. A rocking bed could also be installed in a patient's home rather than forcing them to live in a nursing facility, which was a given for those confined to an iron lung.

Rocking beds are still used to assist respiration, even though polio is no longer usually the cause of the breathing problem. They have the great advantage of being non-invasive compared to many other ways of helping a person breathe.

Black, Kathryn. In The Shadow of Polio: A Personal and Social History. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1996.

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