[from the stabenow.com vaults, first posted February 15, 2004]
About seasickness, since almost every single non-Coastie person who has emailed me has asked if I’m seasick. Yes, once, the first full day of patrol. I woke up, sat up, and threw up.
Later that same day I walked into the wardroom pantry and the seaman on duty was so white you could count his individual freckles. “Are you okay?” I said. “Seasick, ma’am,” he kind of groaned, and then staggered over to kneel in front of the trash can, puked, got up, blew his nose, washed his hands, and went back to work. I think that seaman shamed me out of being seasick again. I stopped taking the Dramamine because it made me so thirsty, and I’ve been (fingers crossed) fine since.
All the veteran crew members have stories about being seasick. Captain Lloyd has never been seasick, but he’s not smug about it because it doesn’t mean he never will be. As XO Thorne says, “There is a sea out there with everyone’s name on it.”
It’s not just the seasickness that is such a challenge. The constant motion of the ship increases the difficulty of even the simplest task tenfold. We’re used to doing things with two hands, and here it’s always one hand for the ship and one hand for whatever you’re doing. I’m not walking when I’m getting around, I’m doing a combination polka-tango with crewmen, bulkheads, hatches, tables, ladders, deck rails and trash nets.
If you’re eating and the ship is rolling you’re using a fork with one hand and with the other catching water glasses, bottles of salad dressing, plates, cutlery, pitchers, and serving dishes before they hit your lap. Or not.
You have to plan out your showers, one handful of stuff at a time, separate sets of gear for each step, toiletries in the tray over the sink, shampoo and towels into the shower, clothes ready for when you get out, and then–damn it!–you’ve forgotten your flipflops again and you have to put your jammies back on and go get them. And you never remember everything (I’m always forgetting my *&^%$! towels). I’m lucky if my showers on board take me less than 30 minutes, and only a fraction of that time is spent getting wet. I’m not even going to get into the art of washing and shampooing one-handed while trying to keep under the water in a shower stall that refuses to stay upright.
Sleeping, too, is problematic. The ship rocks and rolls and corkscrews, and it creaks and moans and shudders and shakes while it does. Between the motion and the noise you catnap if you’re lucky, but I’m betting no one ever gets their REM allotment. Who can sleep when you have to hang onto the side of the bunk to keep from being thrown to the deck? Ops says that he sleeps a lot the first week back from patrol.
That’s one of the reasons such care is taken of the crew’s well-being. For example, within 24 hours we did a SAR, a fire drill and two boardings, and the next morning the Captain declared holiday routine until noon to give the crew a chance to catch up on their rest. The crew of the Alex Haley is on call 24-7. It doesn’t matter if they’ve just done a SAR, if another call comes in they suit up and go back to work. Command is acutely aware of this, and of maintaining crew fitness so they can continue their mission, saving lives.
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