Mojave June, after noon, sun high hot and relentless. Humidity very low. No surprises so far.
All day I keep a big plastic jar handy, refilling it between flights and pouring as much water on my head as down my throat. Several times in flight and on the ground, I make a point of chugging more than I want even when not thirsty, just ’cause they say you should. Then at day’s end the simple chores of securing our fleet for the night become unusually difficult and confusing. My skull, under a white hat, feels like it’s being cooked. I drop what I’m trying to do, apologize to crew and hurry inside wondering what’s wrong with me.
Supposing it’s age, I tell myself get used to it. I’m not sick, just terminally weak and listless. Staring at a magazine, I recognize most of the words but can’t recall what they mean and lack the gumption to think about it. Driving home I feel disconnected, as if the windshield were a TV screen. Change the channel? No, I’d rather turn it off.
It’s only a twenty minute trip, and by halfway I’m really not safe to drive. Will I get home before falling asleep? Is this early onset of one or another wasting illness and the end of my soaring career? Won’t matter much either way. I resent having to hold my head up.
Normally I’d play with the dog awhile, but this evening I trudge straight to bed, crash on my belly (which I never do), and sleep till dark.
Waking up I feel even worse, mouth so dry I can hardly move my tongue. That’s when the desiccated brain produces one last cogent percept. Huffing straight from the kitchen faucet I confirm all symptoms of dehydration and begin the slow process of recovery.
Yes I had downed a fair amount of water throughout the day, but obviously not enough. All those sun blasted hours I meant to be keeping up, I’d been falling behind.
And yes I did know better, or should have. This was at least my third brush with serious dehydration, but each episode came years apart and in different circumstances, so that’s my excuse. Problem is, when you pass out at the controls of your plane or your car excuses don’t count for much.
In Israel’s Six Day War, there was a directive requiring every infantry soldier in the field to consume a minimum one liter of water per hour, no excuses. That policy enabled advancing Israelis to step over the bodies of Egyptian counterparts lying face down in the sand…