Tuesday, August 25, 2015

CircoLectric Beds Go Round and Round

CircoLectric beds were unique devices that were the hospital bed equivalent of a BMW   Z4  sports car. They looked exotic, were expensive, moved, and were not real practical. The bed consisted of 2 large hoops about 7  feet in diameter with a horizontal surface through the middle of the parallel hoops. The entire assembly was mounted on rubber belt driven rollers that rotated the bed via an electric motor in the base. The horizontal surface was the mattress that the patient reclined on in the supine position. A stretcher-like device was attached when rotating the patient into the prone position. The mattress could then be lifted up and out of the way when the patient was face down. This completely prone position which was unobtainable with a regular hospital bed was especially good for decubitus ulcer care.

The bed was designed for patients with a spinal cord injury and the thinking was to gradually acclimate the patient to position changes without causing problems with their fragile autonomic nervous system. The bed really worked well to immobilize and prevent lateral spinal movement, but the forces of gravity and difficulty maintaining traction while the bed was changing position lessened it's use with these patients.

Our hospital began using CircoLectric beds in the early 1970's to care for patients that had a Cloward cervical spine procedure. This  involved taking a bone form the hip to make a dowel to stabilize and fuse the vertebra. The thinking was that a period of 10 days or so in the Circolectric bed would facilitate healing and also keep pressure off the hip graft site.  There was little science to support this and after awhile the use of Circolectric beds for this was abandoned. It takes months for bone grafts to fuse and 10 days in the Circolectric bed made little difference

Dr. Ralph Cloward, the inventor of this procedure is said to have done 44 crainiotomies over the course of 4 days during wartime. Just thinking about his scrub nurse loading all those Raney Clips makes my fingers ache.

Patients really hated these beds. Before turning, the patients were tightly sandwiched between the top and bottom frames which caused claustrophobia. In the prone position only the floor would be visible. We tried to position diversions under the bed for the patient, but those old tube TVs were to large. We did come up with a radio with extended handles for the patient to control it.

I did care for a very good natured quadriplegic, Cecil, that had a certain fondness for his Circolecric bed. He used it whenever a pressure sore began to develop. He had an old tape cassette deck that blasted the Diana Ross song "Upside Down" whenever we turned him. I even remember some of the words:

I said upside down
You're turning me
Upside down

Boy, you turn me inside out
and round and round

Boy you turn me

He used to laugh and ask us to dance to this song whenever we turned him. I could never understand how someone with such a severe disability could be so joyful. There is a lesson somewhere there and I think about Cecil often.

The Circolectric bed had a trapdoor in the lower mattress for elimination puposes which had a spring loaded holder for a bedpan. I worked with a nurse from rural Iowa that came up with a great use for an obsolete Circolectric bed. As a prank, youngsters on the farms would tip over an occupied out house. Her idea was to strap the pranksters to a Circolectric bed and when they started to eliminate, turn the bed. Sort of the old eye for an eye type of justice. I imagine there plenty of these beds jammed into a warehouse somewhere just waiting to be repurposed by the juvenile justice systems of rural America.


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  2. In 1978, I used a circle bed after I had surgery resulting from a compression fracture of T12,L1,L2 vertebrae. I remember an incident in which an LPN had decided I was going to get an enema because I had not been able to go to the bathroom. She decided she was going to give me the enema while I was laying on my stomach and then flip me over on my back. I told her that was not a good idea because I did not have control of my bowel movements. Anyway she decided to go ahead and do it. After she'd given me the enema, she began to flip me over onto my back. The bed stuck in the vertical position. I eliminated and the mess was awful. Needless to say the LPN was reprimanded by the charge nurse and had to clean up the mess by herself.

  3. My heart goes out to you. Those Circolectric beds definitely had an unpleasant side to them for patients. It often made me feel dizzy just watching patients as they were turned. I hope you are doing well now after all that trauma. Thanks so much for reading my blog and taking time to leave a comment.

  4. I admit, I have not been on this web page in a long time... however it was another joy to see It is such an important topic and ignored by so many, even professionals. professionals. I thank you to help making people more aware of possible issues.
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  6. I used that bed many times as a new nurse in the early 80's. We just called it the circle bed. It was actually a pretty slick way to turn a C-spine injury--you did have to watch the hanging weights! And we had cool prism glasses so the patients could watch TV while prone. There was a patient with cranial screws and traction who unexpectedly developed DT's overnight--found him standing next to the circle bed still attached by his cranial tongs! The LPN (male and big, Thank the Lord) and I simply lifted him back in bed. There was nothing else we could do. I called the neurosurgeon. Thank goodness he had a sense of humor. The patient suffered no injury. I still shudder when I think of it.

  7. Brings back memories - I was in one at Marin General fall of 1974 for a broken neck. Yes enemas, prism glasses, motion sickness, nothing like being squished between mattresses. Only good thing is World Series were on an my brother attended "the Last Five Nights" of the closing of Winterland bringing me cassette taps to listen too. Thanks to all the nurses!

    1. I'm so glad you recovered. Circle beds were a miserable device. I felt especially bad for patients lying in the prone position on that flimsy hard as a rock stretcher-like surface. We used to position a TV on the floor for ease of viewing while lying prone. All was copacetic until the television got doused with urine during a careless Foley bag emptying. I haven't seen that much color since grandma took a spill on the Harley!

  8. I think its a great bed. I spent two time in it. I was in it from October 29 till a week before X-mas. Then had surgery for x-mas. Then had a second turn in it. Finally got out in January I spent 79 day in hospital. Had special glass to watch tv. I am walking and talking thanks to the best doctor in the world. His name is Eli Tobis to whom I owe my life.

  9. As a medical service specialist at Wilford Hall on Lackland AFB we used these beds to good effect. I am now 73 years old and have an uncle who was just taken to the hospital for infected skin ulcers. I automatically thought about these beds and wished I could find one for him. I don't remember people having so much trouble with them but it has been 50 years. Wow what memories.

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