Burned and bummed out

June 14, 2012

I had been driving for a few hours after my visit to Little Talbot Island State Park on the Atlantic coast, on the outskirts of Jacksonville, Fla., when I felt it. “It,” of course, was that tell-tale irritation familiar to anyone who has carelessly exposed skin to too much sunlight. My three hours of eating, reading, lounging and wading at the beach had left me with a souvenir.

Semipermanent blush. That is: sunburn.

I got home around 12:45 a.m. Tuesday. After unpacking the car, I stripped and inspected myself in the bathroom mirror. Most of my normally pale back was crimson. So was much of the top of my left foot. There were also a few red spots on my right foot and by my inner right ankle. Stray blotches were scattered across my chest and belly; there were a few on my arms and legs, too.

Before heading into the sunshine Monday, I had tried to coat myself thoroughly with sunscreen. While lounging on the sand, I had applied a second coat to my shoulders, which painful repeat experiences have taught me to be particularly vulnerable to solar radiation. Unfortunately, I had considered and rejected the notion of applying a fresh layer of sunblock to the rest of me, and I had paid for that omission.

I was burned, and my back and my left foot were yelping.

Moisturizing lotion was in order. After a quick shower, I began the awkward task of trying to smear cream on all the spots I had had trouble reaching around noon on Monday. I went to bed. And I went through the same moisturizing routine when I showered after the sun and I rose on Tuesday.

But the soothing effect was partial at best. Shifting my back and shoulders was mildly painful. At times my left foot throbbed. Sometimes, when those complaints subsided, my right ankle barked. Settling into a chair, rising from one, walking around — all these activities summoned reminders of the abuse my skin had absorbed. My irritated skin made me less sociable than normal. (And I’m not exactly Mr. Guy Smiley to begin with.)

It’s very rare for me to bathe before bedtime, but I did so Tuesday night, hoping that a quick shower and another coat of moisturizer would help bring the burning to a quick and merciful end. Less than eight hours later, when I rose on Wednesday, I followed through with another shower and moisturizing session. After lunch on Wednesday, I repeated the cycle.

As I write this Wednesday afternoon, I am still in pain. I know that I’ve increased my chances of contracting skin cancer.

But I can’t complain too much. I probably have many good years ahead of me. I’ll get through this…eventually. In the meantime, I’ll try to not to bellyache too much.

As for the next time I take off my shirt in the sun? I’ll put a thorough coat of sunshine on everything that I’ve exposed, including my back and ankles and feet. And I’ll repeat the process hourly, no matter how awkward or inconvenient it is to do so.

Lesson learned. Permanently. I hope.

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