Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Time Zoned-Out

A serial expat friend of mine once declared that jet lag didn't affect her.  "What's the big deal?  You're really tired on the first night, so you sleep well, and by the next day you're turned around."  I remember gaping at her, incredulous.  I also remember secretly wanting to sneak out to her driveway and let all the air out of her tires.

Dan's parents have come from Canada to visit us in Doha twice.  (The fact that they made that trip more than once affirms my opinion that those 26-hour journeys are a lot like childbirth:  long, painful and unpleasant, but the horror is instantly forgotten, leaving the optimistic feeling of wanting to try it again in a year or two.)  On both trips, my father-in-law behaved like any normal person for the first week:  he was up at the ungodly hour of 3:00 am for a few days, kept trying to catch a nap during the afternoon, looked vacant and pale just shortly after dinner, and begged off to bed well before the rest of us.  My mother-in-law, however, acted like she had been living with us for the whole year, or at the very least taking a well-scheduled combination of melatonin supplements and Red Bull.  She'd get a solid 10 hours on the first night, up at 8:00, and then proceed to do all the dishes, play three two-hour games of Settlers of Catan, dead-head my petunias, and clean out my Tupperware cupboard.  She'd turn in only after completing the border of a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, long after the rest of us had given up and gone to bed.  This was her pattern for the remainder of her stay.  Sleep-of-the-dead, up, frenetic pace, repeat.

Is it possible that the two women described above are superhuman?  I ask this because last week, after a 13-hour overseas flight, followed by a 4-1/2-hour flight across four provinces, I felt quite a bit less than human.  In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, but I felt downright short-tempered and bitchy.  Kind of like my normal self, only kicked up a few notches.

For those of you who have experienced jet lag, you know the drill.  Night One, after being awake for 30 hours in transit, you are delirious with exhaustion and sleep a good eight hours.  "Ahh, 6:00 a.m.!" you might exclaim upon waking.  You will think, mistakenly, that you are "turned around".  But Night One is all a big set-up for your pending and most certain disappointment.

The best advice I can give for the day after Night One is this:  don't sign any legal documents and don't drive heavy machinery.  It is also a good idea to avoid attempting any transactions that are complicated and confusing.  (Note:  all transactions on this day will be complicated and confusing.)  On Day One, I made the mistake of visiting my local mobile phone service provider to get my phone working here in Calgary.  My recollection of the conversation is something like this:

"We have a plan that allows for free messaging, with 25 cents a minute for local calls for the first five minutes, or calculated at a rate of the integral of the speed of the call, whichever is greater, unless they are calls made to numbers consisting of only prime numbers, in which case unicorns will fly over rainbows, and...ma'am?  Ma'am?  Could you get your head off the counter?  We try to discourage the customers from drooling on the pamphlets."

Nights Two through Four are cruel, cruel times, indeed.  During dinner, the whole family will be unable to stay conversational, all of you holding your forks above your plates, silently chewing, your gaze just slightly to the left of your placemats to an intriguing spot on the table.  You'll order the kids to bed at 7:30 (there won't be a big fight), and force yourself to stay up until 9:00 in the hopes that you'll get another solid eight hours.  This will not happen.  Here's a tip:  no matter what time you go to bed, you will wake up, for good, at 4:00 a.m.  Go about your day.  Look cheerful—remember, you're on vacation!

The next few nights following these will be short, and the days will drag on.  You'll find yourself high-fiving the kids for sleeping in until 5:45.  You'll stubbornly refuse naps and watch a load of crappy TV just to stay awake until 10:00.  Your brow will be furrowed, and people who are a) related to you, and b) shorter than you, might get on your nerves.  This may or may not pass.

The rule of thumb for figuring out how long it will take someone to overcome jet lag is one day for every hour of time difference.  Tomorrow marks Day Nine in our struggle with the nine-hour time difference between Doha and Calgary, so by this estimation, we should be turned around.  I think the kids are already there.  As for myself, it's a little hard to tell.  I'll know I've reached complete turn-around when there is only one 6 o'clock in my day, and when I don't have the urge to take my still-non-functioning cell phone outside and beat it to smithereens with a tire-iron.  I think you'll need to give me another day or two.

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