Hunger, Sleep Deprivation and One Seriously Stiff Lizard


Lizards are great, but I’d sooner not have them running amok in my clothes. Image: John Hanusek

I had not slept in three days. In the modern age, the U.S. Army can’t legally hit you. However, they do liberally employ hunger and sleep deprivation as stress enhancers. Anybody can seem cool when they are well-rested and freshly scrubbed. Go a few days without food and sleep, however, and the true you invariably bubbles forth.

It has been my experience filthy humans in a filthy environment ultimately reach a sort of dirt stasis. You get so dirty that old dirt has to fall off to make room for new dirt. Under those circumstances things that might precipitate the screaming habdabs back in the World seem strangely not so onerous.

We finally called an admin halt and sat down in a clearing to savor an MRE. I’ve eaten some vile stuff in sundry government-sponsored survival schools. MREs, by contrast, are typically fairly palatable. The modern versions even include a flameless heater. Ours is the first military in history to avail its soldiers of a hot meal anywhere in the world under any circumstances. That may seem a small thing. It isn’t.

We circled in groups of about a dozen, stripped out of our killer gear and proceeded to barter MRE components. A fellow soldier with whom I was only remotely acquainted walked up and asked to join us. I scooted over to make space in the circle.

Jurassic Spasms

Before he sat down, the young man began to behave strangely. What started as a modest twitch soon evolved into gyrations most vigorous. He then shook his right arm a couple of times and a huge dead lizard shot out of his shirt sleeve to land amidst the dinner of the guy sitting beside me.

At least 15″ long from snout to tail, this was a freaking epic reptile. The beast’s death rictus left it resembling a giant brown scaly banana. The demised creature not surprisingly put quite the damper on my neighbor’s repast. The offended party leapt backward as though electrocuted, vigorously energized over the fact a stranger had unceremoniously deposited a big dead lizard into his Chili Mac.

Before formal pugilism could ensue, the interloper from whose uniform blouse the deceased creature had emerged began screaming and running about in circles. The young man was shedding his clothes with mad abandon. Several of us leapt up and subdued the maniac before things got truly out of hand.

When the kid regained his wits, he explained himself. Some 18 hours prior, his patrol leader had called a brief halt to get his bearings. Thoroughly exhausted, this dude had plopped down at the base of a tree to lean his heavy rucksack against the trunk. He then dipped his head forward, seeking a brief respite.

The patrol leader motioned for everybody to move out moments later. As the young man pulled himself to his feet, he felt what he thought to be a modest branch fall down the neck of his uniform shirt. There was no time to tend to the offending stick as they were moving fast and hard, so he just squeezed and wiggled as best he could to get the stob out from underneath the shoulder straps of his LBE (Load Bearing Equipment). Once the thing was comfortably oriented in the void in his shirt, he had promptly forgotten it was there.

After dropping his gear, he recalled the offending item as he made his way over to eat with us. The first he knew he had been carrying the cold corpse of a foot-long dead lizard around in his armpit was when the thing slid out of his shirt sleeve and landed in my buddy’s dinner. Apparently, the beast’s unsettling quietus was the result of his efforts to work it into a comfortable spot. It took half an hour for the guy to quit shivering.

There’s nothing like military service to put your problems in perspective. Hunger,
exhaustion and sleep deprivation will reliably strip away the veneer of civility.


Life can be hard these days. Pandemics, a mortgage, draconian writing deadlines and endless chaos at the medical clinic where I toil suffice to keep my world perpetually agitated. However, my time in uniform gave me a baseline against which to compare the travails of the day.

Oftentimes things may indeed seem bad back here in the World. However, nowadays I get to sleep at home, my food doesn’t come out of a plastic bag and my job description no longer entails people trying to kill me when I’m at work. I also never, ever get so dirty I might not notice an enormous dead reptile stuck inside my clothes. Life’s not so bad after all.

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