The Hysterical Parent

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Family Vacations, Summer 1996

The Hysterical Parent

What if I go to all the trouble and expense of planning a sailing vacation and then discover that a member of my family gets seasick ?

For the record, seasickness has very little to do with the sea. What's going on is sensory conflict. Your inner ear, nerves, and muscles might be sensing motion while your eyes see stability. That's why Lawrence of Arabia got sick riding camels across the desert and a pope became queasy when carried on people's shoulders in his ceremonial chair. You don't hear about it much, but some astronauts have a terrible problem with motion sickness.

If you do feel ill on a boat, stay on deck, breathe in fresh air, and keep your mind occupied. Just as drivers rarely get carsick, sailors busy with prescribed tasks are less likely to get seasick. Some people suck lemons; others eat a roll they've poked with a finger and filled with Worcestershire sauce. I have a friend who swears by acupressure wristbands, but I wear them and still get sick. Another friend, a captain in the Coast Guard, says his trick is a handful of salted peanuts every day before breakfast. While seasickness is a physical malady, there's also a strong psychological component: A placebo dispensed with authority, such as a swig of Coke or a piece of dry toast, can be quite effective.

If that doesn't work, there are a number of over-the-counter drugs, most of which contain one of three active ingredients-cyclizin, dimenhydrate, or meclizine hydrochloride. It's a wise idea to have a pretrip chat with your doctor, as well as a trial dose of the medication (to test for side effects). I once took a drug that prevented seasickness but also left me unconscious for 24 hours.

Charlie Mazel is the author of Heave Ho! My Little Green Book of Seasickness (Bernel Books).

Copyright 1996, Outside Magazine

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