My husband and I went on our honeymoon about a year after saying “I do,” and we returned from our trip last week. We took a Western Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, a truly impressive feat of engineering. I hadn’t been on a cruise ship in about 20 years, so I was shocked by the size and inclusiveness of the ship as compared to my last experience. I recall being seasick on my first cruise 20 years ago, so I stocked up on Dramamine, Sea-Bands, and ginger-flavored gum to help combat the nausea I expected to feel. Despite the massive size and clever architecture of the ship, I was always aware that we were floating on the ocean. The subtle yet constant rocking of the waves was impossible to forget during dinner, while swimming, or while strolling the promenade; however, the Dramamine helped me avoid the nausea that (for me) typically accompanies repetitive motion.
Eventually I grew accustomed to the movement of the ship and was able to stop taking the Dramamine. Transitioning to land for day trips to Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel was no problem. I was able to relax and enjoy the trip. Once we disembarked in Cape Canaveral, I was very proud of my stomach for making it through the entire voyage with almost no difficulty. That night as I was lowering my bulky suitcase to the floor I felt the sudden swoop of a wave. I stood up and the world around me started rocking as if I was on board a salmon boat on a stormy Lake Superior.
Apparently it wasn’t my stomach that I should have been worried about—it was my head. After experiencing swooping feelings for several days after returning home, I Googled my symptoms and found out about Mal de Débarquement Syndrome (MdDS), or “sickness of disembarkment syndrome,” which is an imbalance or rocking sensation that is both felt and seen by the sufferer that occurs after exposure to motion (most commonly cruising or flight). Though most people experience some kind of minor rocking when getting their land legs back, MdDS can last for many weeks or even years after the transition.
Not much is known about MdDS and it is difficult to diagnose as there is no specific test for diagnosis. Rather, tests are usually given to rule out other causes of the symptoms. Treatment is similarly difficult and there is no single, consistently successful treatment approach. Standard motion sickness drugs are often ineffective. Treatments that have shown some success include use of benzodiazepines, tricyclic antidepressants, and vestibular rehabilitation. For those whom prescribed treatments are ineffective, suggested methods of coping with MdDS symptoms involve getting plenty of rest and stress reduction.
Coming back to work with lingering MdDS symptoms has not been easy, but online resources provide helpful tips for coping while at the office. Some examples include:
- Use of incandescent lamps rather than fluorescent lights
- Use of LCD computer monitors rather than flicker CRT monitors
- Placement of computer monitors at eye level
- Adjustment of monitor color and brightness
- Use of a speaker or headset for hands-free use
- Avoidance of activities that require stepstools, ladders, or standing on chairs
As wonderful as cruise vacations can be, I’m now more mindful of the potential costs of spending several days at sea. Thankfully, I am one of the lucky ones who only had to live with MdDS symptoms for about two weeks after disembarking. I’m finally getting back to normal and feel much more appreciative of how easy it is to read text that isn’t swirling around me.
– Jessica Bridger, JETPUBS Inc.