If you look at the the Day three card, under “Physiek,” you’ll notice it says nothing about feeling like death on a soda cracker.
Maybe that wasn’t much of an exaggeration. I figured once I got going, I’d be good to go.. As events would prove, I was living in denial when I marked Tired.
“You okay?” Mac asked.
He shrugged but answered, “You look a little pale.”
A dead man is supposed to be pale, I thought.
Being dead would have been an improvement. At least I’d have an excuse for the way I felt.
My stomach was an empty void. I guess that was just right since I’d spent of the evening throwing up. Every muscle and joint in my body hurt. I felt like I’d gone fifteen rounds with Mike Tyson, been kicked for an hour by Chuck Norris, punched, and then rolled down a mountain. And after that was over, I’d worked all day long in the burning hot sun , loading and stacking a fleet of semi trucks with hay bales and then been ran over by one.
I stood up to get a fresh pair of socks from my ruck. The broken glass feeling in my feet greeted me and for a second I thought I was going to pass out. The word excruciating doesn’t begin to describe how they felt. On the pain scale of one to ten, they registered around a thirty.
Before I was fully dressed, I drank down a quart of water from my canteen The water was warm and when it moved around in my stomach it threatened to have a boomerang effect and come right back up.
I was sick and worse, I knew what the problem was.
The day before had been a hot day. A Dutch soldier had warned us that today was supposed to hot and to watch out water. Water was something that we’d all been on drinking by the gallon. We’d drank water and drank water and drank water some more. But it was barely enough. Our uniforms were sweat soaked and plastered to our bodies.
To make matters worse, we’d marched into the beer tent on our arrival back at the camp. Thirsty, I’d drank four beers.
Now I’d done that before. Distance and I were no strangers to each other. and more than once, I’d ran a marathon and drank several beers afterwards. I’d done it before and always been fine.
Of course I wasn’t running another marathon the following day.
I’d had two days of high mileage marching with a heavy ruck on my back. My body was beat up and it didn’t need beer. It needed water. It needed electrolytes. My body had tried to do what it could with what I gave it and what I’d managed to do was poison myself.
In non-technical terms, I was hung over on a cosmic scale.
All beer will do for you when you’re already dehydrated is dehydrate you even more. And despite drinking water the rest of the evening, that did nothing to help.
So before we even rolled out of bed on day three, I was in big trouble.
Breakfast only made it worse.
If you’re unfamiliar with Europe’s idea of breakfast, it has little to do with bacon and eggs and everything to do with sandwiches. We got breakfast in a sack lunch and part of that was a couple of slices of bread and a tin of meat. I drew liverwurst. Far as I’m concerned, if you gave liverwurst to POWs to eat, it would be considered an atrocity.
But, I didn’t care. My body was screaming for food, so I ate it.
Two minutes later I threw it up.
Not long afterwards, we were called to the starting line.
As always, musicians led the way. This morning, the pipes did nothing to strengthen me.
We started walking.
And we walked.
And we walked.
If you’ve never done anything that consists of great distances, you play a game with yourself. Rather than think of the whole walk or run, you start setting small goals for yourself. You take the whole and break it down into a few hundred yards at a time. For instance, you’re walking down a road and there’s power poles along the road.
“I’ll get to that power pole,” you say to yourself. When you reach that one, you go the the next, then the one after that. Eventually, you reach the finish line.
We call this trick “Mind over Matter.” If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter!
But it wasn’t working today. Every ounce of my being was screaming in agony. I was horribly dehydrated and dehydration is painful. I was feeling every bit of it and no amount of mind tricks was going to help.
Eventually, I just couldn’t keep up and no matter how much I pushed myself I couldn’t find it anymore. I started trailing behind, pushing myself but there was nothing to push myself with.
Karen, our medic rode a ten speed, and she fail out to keep an eye on me.
“Rich,” she said. “Let me check something.”
She took my arm and pushed down with her thumb on my skin. If you try that, you might see where you pushed down and it will vanish almost instantly. Do that with someone who is dehydrated and it will stay for several seconds and then disappear slowly.
She knew then what I already knew. I was in big trouble.
“When was the last time you pee’ed?” she asked.
“I haven’t. Not this morning.”
The look in her eyes told me she thought I was in deeper trouble than I thought.
“There’s an aid station a few miles down the road. Do you think you can reach it?”
“We’ll find out,” I replied.
Truthfully, I don’t know how far I walked and she rode. I felt guilty about taking her away from the team, but thankful she was there if I collapsed. I vaguely remember getting to the aid station and the medics lying me down on a stretcher. Karen later told me I had stumbled and staggered like a drunkard the last several hundred yards to the tent. By now, my speech was slurred and I’d stopped sweating. I was starting to shiver.
Having got me to where I needed to go, Karen left to rejoin the team.
A doctor came over, did a quick exam of me and then they start an IV on me. I didn’t even wince as they stuck me with the needle, and watched in a rather a detached way as they got the drip going and hung the bag.
I don’t know how long I was asleep but I woke up when they started a second bag on me. I remember thinking if I’d taken two bags, I was in big trouble.
Someplace during this, I woke up again. A young soldier had been brought in and placed on the stretcher next to me. A doctor took his boot off and I remember his sock was filled with blood. When the doctor took the sock off, I saw his foot was bleeding.
“You’re sidelined, Private,” the doctor told him.
I recall the kid crying. All I could do was pat him on the shoulder and tell him he was going to be fine.
I vaguely recall being placed in a military ambulance like a loaf of bread and taken back to the camp. I found my way back to the tent I shared with everyone else, found my bunk. I laid down and went to sleep.
Lt. Bielecki woke me up. He’d grabbed supper for me and a couple of bottle of water. He told me I’d almost made it to the finish line.
I ate and went right back to sleep, wondering if I make it through the final day.
Definition of Dehydration: