Saturday, April 20, 2013

Marine versus sleep deprivation

The things people do to stay awake when faced with empty hours and little sleep.

via Terminal Lance

One of my better memories from the Balkans is of walking the perimeter of a large and very muddy airfield at about three in the morning. A newly pinned sergeant, I was going from guard tower to guard tower in the fog, carrying a thermos of coffee and a thermos of hot chocolate to see how the younger scouts standing post were holding up. I'd give them a chance to take a bathroom break and get caffeinated, while checking the integrity of the fence line in the process.

After two months of everyone's sleep cycle split by the necessity of the guard shift schedule -- sleeping for three hours in the morning and two or three in the evening -- we were all getting a little loopy in the pre-dawn hours when the human endocrine system drags its sorry circadian ass across the floor. Especially on nights when we spent hour after hour staring into the void of sensory deprivation that is an enveloping dome of blank winter fog.

Everyone had their strategies for coping with those early morning hours. Some saner than others, and some funnier than others. As I trudged through the mud and mist, I heard a god-awful shrill keening up ahead from the next tower. Think Mike Tyson, freshly kneed in the groin, trying to belt out the lyrics of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Californication". No, think Mike Tyson newly castrated and utterly incoherent.

After a few seconds of wondering if someone was having a medical emergency -- maybe a psychotic break from reality or schizophrenic hallucinations -- I picked up the pace and jogged to the base of the guard tower. Not even the heavy thud of my boots on the wooden stairs was enough to interrupt the singer.

It turned out to be a combination of two days without sleep, supplemented by two six-packs of Diet Coke. Which had worked just fine until the soda ran out and the caffeine crash set in. At that point the only thing keeping Joe Snuffy conscious was a combination of musical atrocity and occasionally banging his Kevlared-helmeted head against the windowsill of the tower.

Like I said, some saner than others, and some funnier than others.

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