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  • May 31st, 2019


By Joel M. Vance

            Among the many emails that daily flood my computer 99.9% of which I don’t want and instantly delete, is one called “A Word a Day.”  Supposedly learning all the words and definitions will increase your vocabulary to the point where you can drop words that no one ever has heard before into your conversations.


           While this may increase your vocabulary, it also is more  likely to decrease your popularity to the point where when others see you coming they will use words that don’t need explaining and that you have heard before.


           Recently the word “naupathia” popped up like a spring mushroom. Even though it is highly unlikely I will ever either encounter or use the word, I clicked on the definition and this is what it said “Motion sickness experienced while traveling on water.”


           I deleted the email instantly because it brought to mind a couple of life experiences that I would rather not recall. And, after I deleted the noxious word, I reached for a Tums to quell my rising gorge. The only person who can laugh at seasickness is someone who’s never been seasick…and he laughs at his peril because the nauseated one, laughed at, is likely to become dangerous when he recovers.


            And he will recover because no one dies of seasickness. They just wish they could.  Actually, seasickness is not confined to the sea—technically it’s motion sickness and I used to become queasy every time my father said, “Let’s take a spin in the ol’ Ford.”  What was spinning was my stomach. 


            There are remedies for motion sickness, including scopolamine patches which you wear behind your ear.  Scopolamine is an alkaloid which interferes with the nervous system—a sedative.  According to the medical books it can produce symptoms including dilated pupils, rapid heartbeat, and dry skin, mouth, and respiratory passages.  Those are exactly the symptoms I had without a patch when Steve Griffin proposed to take me on Lake Michigan to troll for Chinook salmon.  Steve’s boat was about the size of my bathtub and this was one of the Great Lakes.  I am dubious about big water under almost any conditions (I hid under the theater seat during most of “The Perfect Storm”).


            We were on big water in a boat that would have had me singing, “Rubadub, dub, three men in a tub” if I hadn’t been scared speechless.  I thought of singing “The Edmund  Fitzgerald,” Gordon Lightfoot’s song about a ship that sank on Lake Superior with great loss of life… but singing was the least of what I wanted to do.  Howling like a frightened hound was more like it.


            And then Steve did the worst thing you can do to someone prone to motion sickness.  “You don’t get seasick, do you?” he asked.  Until that moment I’d been too scared to think about throwing up, but as soon as my imagination kicked in, the heaving waves were echoed in my stomach. 


            And then to make it worse Steve added, “How about some summer sausage?”   I couldn’t answer.  I was too busy swallowing noisily.  At that moment a 22-pound Chinook salmon decided that my lure was a sub sandwich (perhaps it was trying to lose weight) and the downrigger bounced and I was fast to the biggest fish of my life.


            Normally this would excite a person, but as the fish bucked and jumped, so did my stomach.  Steve kept giving me directions, but none were to the nearest emergency room.  “Keep the line tight!  Keep your rod tip up!”  Stuff like that was no help to someone undergoing a drastic medical emergency.  I needed encouragement, like, “Here’s dry land!  There’s a soft bed!”


            The fish jumped, then headed for where I wanted to be—the distant shore.  “Give up, fish!” I snarled, trying not to think of greasy summer sausage.  If only I had taken Dramamine.  Dramamine affects the way the middle ear acts and it’s the middle ear acting up that makes you want to puke to the moon.  Some researchers think long-term use of anticholinergics, which is what Dramamine is, can lead to internal damage.  I was already having that, so big deal.


            There are other seasickness remedies, none of which I had available.  The most intriguing one is an elastic band that applies acupressure to your wrist, more specifically to the pericardial meridian (a fact that you can use at parties to send your audience into wild apathy).  Scientists believe that the effectiveness is because you believe it works, not because it actually does—but then motion sickness occurs because you believe it does, too.  So the condition and the cure are all imaginary, just like the fish you’re after when you become seasick. 


             Now, if the imagination is the trigger then I’ve been underestimating dogs because many dogs become carsick and there’s hardly anything more fun than riding with a nauseous dog, especially since bird dogs are capable of producing enough waste to make another dog.


             You also can undergo acupuncture to relieve seasickness, but I’m not sure I’d want my fishing buddy to be jabbing me with six-inch needles on a heaving sea.  I’d rather do the heaving along with the sea. 


            So you’re fast to the biggest fish you ever caught in your life and the waves are rolling, rolling, rolling and your stomach goes up, then down and your eyes are trying to follow the shifting currents and…excuse me, I’ll be back in a moment.  I just have to sit down and take a few deep breaths.


            Motion sickness is because your brain, like mine, is geared to accept signals from your eyes and your inner ear.  Usually they agree.  But that stuff sloshing around in your inner ear (better not to think about it) sometimes sends a different message than what your eyes are seeing.  And your brain (well, mine anyway) says, “Hey, man, if you can’t get your act together I’m gonna make you orbit your cookies.”  And so it goes….


            The second memorable time that seasickness struck was on a schooner trip off the coast of Maine, aboard the Nathaniel Bowditch, a three master dating to the 19th century and named for a historic sailing master who wrote the book on oceanic navigation.


            The boat was beautiful, sleek and a living remnant of the time when sailboats ruled the oceans. I felt like Errol Flynn as Captain Blood as I strode the decks of this noble craft trying to repress the urge to shout, “Avast ye lubbers!” And “Up the mainsl’s, ye blaggers!” And other expletives gleaned from 1940s seafaring adventures, seen at the Rialto Theater, where I ate popcorn and stuck my bubblegum under the seat. But I figured that the response from the crew and fellow passengers would be along the lines of, “Up yours too, you dryland lubber!”


            All went well for a couple of days as we sailed with a fair wind behind us, anchored near an island, went ashore, not to conquer the natives, but to feast on lobster, bought fresh off the boat, steamed on a bed of seaweed gathered by us lubbers. It was heaven on earth—or at least as close as you can get to it off the coast of Maine.


            And then, on day three the wind picked up and the boat began to rock, not much certainly for those seafarers among us, but I felt a tremor in my nether regions. Suddenly, no longer was I Captain Blood, but Captain Barf. I explained to my fellow seafarers that I was suffering a tad of mal de mer, hoping that none of them knew enough French to translate that as plain old American “Excuse me before I upchuck on your loafers.” I retired to my bunk below decks, a claustrophobic enclosure about the size of a sardine can (and thank God no one suggested either sardines or summer sausage). I survived in time, but my enthusiasm for oceanic adventure subsided along with my bounding main belly.


             According to my emails the word for today is turtling: ” The art, practice or art of catching turtles.” Sounds like it might be fun. I might do it— as long as it doesn’t involve  getting in a boat.  I’m in good company—about half the astronauts suffer from motion sickness.  So I guess I’m made of the Right Stuff after all.


             If I could just keep it down….





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