By Lonny Lippsett
a fact of life on ships, but nobody talks about it much. Why should
they? Its not a pretty picture. Yep, Im talking about
the green scourge, Neptunes revengeseasickness. It sounds
better in Frenchmal de merbut I bet it doesnt feel
any better in French.
My daughters gave me a worried look when they first learned I would be joining
an oceanographic expedition. But Dad, they said. You get sick
on carousels. Its true. If there were an evolutionary advantage for
seasickness, my descendants would eventually take over the earth. On our honeymoon,
my wife and I took a small fishing vessel to visit a remote island off the coast
of Ireland. I had warned her that I was susceptible to seasickness, but she married
me anyway. A few minutes into the voyage, she began peering intently at my face. Thats
amazing, she said, Ive never seen that shade of green before. Not
even in the big box of Crayola crayons.
I wanted to learn some more about what causes seasickness. Atlantis Third
Engineer, Phil Treadwell, summed it up well: Your eyes tell
you one thing, he said, and your body tells you another.
In the inner part of your ear, there are three semicircular canals that are filled
with fluid. Its called the vestibular system. When your body moves, the
fluid in these canals sloshes back and forth or up and down. The system tells
you which direction your body is moving and how fast. It gives you your sense
semicircular canals are accustomed to horizontal motion, such as
walking. But your body less frequently encounters vertical motion.
Bumpy airplanes, roller-coasters, and elevators cause fluid in the
semicircular canals to go up and down. That stimulates nerves in
your brain, and you get that sudden falling feeling.
Human beings are generally landlubbers, so they dont ordinarily experience
the motions of a ship at sea. Ships have quite a repertoire of these, said First
Mate Mitzi Crane. There is rolling, when one side of the ship rolls toward the
water and then the other side does. There is pitching, when the ships bow
and stern (front and back) sway up and down like a seesaw. And then there is
yawing, which is sort of a jumbled combination of these with a few other nasty
movements thrown in. Imagine how that jostles the fluids in your inner ear. Big
ships like Atlantis, fortunately, dont yaw much.
Seasickness happens when your inner ear and your eyes send confusing signals
to your brain. Your eyes looks at the deck or at your cabin walls. These are
ordinarily non-moving things, so your eyes are telling your brain that all is
stable. Your inner ear, on the other hand, may be screaming to your brain that
the world is constantly moving in many unusual directions.
No wonder the brain gets confusedand stressed. Then the body gets distressed.
Symptoms included headache, dizziness, queasiness, that cold, clammy feeling
on your skin, a skin tone similar to the Wicked Witch of the West ... lets
the old saying goes, seasickness wont kill you, although you
can feel so bad you might pray it would. However, sufferers can get
dehydrated from vomiting, and thats dangerous, Mitzi said.
are several medications that help some people overcome seasickness.
Some comes in pill form. Another is a patch that sticks behind your
ear and dispenses medicine through your skin. Some people say wrist
bands that apply pressure to a particular spot can help, but there
is no medical explanation for this. In all cases, it is best to take
medicine before you get motion sickness, rather than once it has
All sailors know the classic cure: Look at a fixed point in the distancelike
the horizon, said Oiler Mike Spruill. A star works at night.
Craig McLean, who is on this expedition as director of NOAAs Ocean Exploration
Program and who was a captain on a NOAA vessel, said that when he noticed a crew
member looking susceptible to seasickness, he would give him or her a task to
do on deck. Fresh air and something to keep your mind busy, so you dont
dwell on the motion, he said.
Everyone is different. Some people are never troubled. Some people get seasick,
and some people get very seasick. Some people get seasick on some ships, but
not on others.
Every ship has its own quirksjust like people, said Chief Engineer
Kevin Fisk. Mitzi has been sailing for more than 20 years without any problems,
but she has not-so-fond memories of one trip on the O-boatWoods
Hole Oceanographic Institutions Oceanus. Its particular motion didnt
Alvin is mandated to go down only in good weather, Mitzi
said, So Atlantis usually follows good weather around.
This is a sweet ride.
even on Atlantis, sometimes you get chased by a storm
that travels up the coast with you, Mitzi said. Youre
constantly fighting to put your foot down in the right place, to
stand, to hold onto your plate at dinner. You wedge yourself in your
rack (bunk), but you dont get much sleep. After a couple of
days of that, youre really tired and your resistance goes down.
It even gets to some wily veterans.
You can always tell somethings up when the bread and soup line in
the galley gets longer and people start passing on the greasy fried food, McLean
Seasickness only seems like it lasts forever. But it doesnt. It is relieved
soon after you return to port. But after a long stretch at sea, it may take some
time for you to re-adjust to solid ground again. Theres a name for this
disease, too. Its called dock rock.
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