Friday, April 12, 2019

The Sunburn

In the early 1970’s I loaded my canoe on top of my car and drove to a lake in northeast Texas.  It was called Lake Texarkana at the time I was there, but about a year later the name was changed to Wright Patman Lake.  A rose by any other name.  I was seeking a couple of days of solitude away from the endless business meetings of corporate life, and I thought exploring a lake I hadn’t seen before was just the thing for me.

The trip was an uneventful few hours as I drove the 190 miles from my home to Douglassville where I rented a room as my base of operations.  Since I had left my home at about 3am I had plenty of time to drive on over to the lake and launch my canoe, and long before noon I was well out on the water.   The idea was to simply explore, but I had brought with me some basic fishing equipment just in case a likely spot appeared. 

I paddled along the shoreline for about an hour as I soaked in the solitude and warm sun.  I found myself getting sleepy and decided to drop my anchor and do some “fishing” while taking a nap.  Best laid plans.  I dropped my line in the water, settled down in the bottom of the canoe where I could stretch out and lean back against the seat, and promptly fell asleep. 

While the nap was not unexpected, the next thing to happen was a shock.  I was awakened by the game warden.  He had drifted his boat up beside me to check on what appeared to him to be an empty canoe, but instead he thought he had found a body.  We were both relieved there was no lifeless body in my canoe, and he understood my explanation of seeking solitude from the rat race I lived in.  He had the opposite problem.  He sometimes drove into Texarkana just to be around people.

Since it was nearly 6pm he offered to tow me back to where I had launched my canoe, and I accepted.  I guess I had been asleep for about 3 or 4 hours when he awakened me, and I was acutely aware that my skin was quite burned.  If I had tried to paddle back to the launch area, I may not have made it. 

That night I visited a store where I could load up on baby oil, skin cream, and aspirin.  I hadn’t been sunburned since I was a kid, and I was not overly fond of what I was feeling.  I was able to lie flat on my back to try to sleep, but any movement make my skin feel like old brittle cellophane being crushed into a ball.  Not fun.  The next morning I loaded up my things and drove home.

Have you ever had a sunburn?  I believe I had rather have endless leg cramps.  Even worse is the aftermath as the skin tries to repair itself.  I had to return to the job of wearing a suit every day and giving presentations in different cities almost every day.  Burning, itching, peeling skin looks almost as bad as it feels, and having to travel around the country gave me very little time to try to solve the problem.

About six or seven weeks later I thought I was repaired and ready enough to go back to the lake to finish what I had started.  I wanted to explore this big lake, and this time I did not take either the fishing equipment or the canoe.  I decided to take along an old friend and rent a boat. 

Mike and I were out on the lake about 7am and were well prepared with extra fuel, water, lunch, and a huge pile of snacks.  We motored for a few hours exploring, snacking, and reminiscing our childhood.  We had had many adventures together as kids, and we were actually reconnecting after a few years apart.  About 1pm we found a spot near the shore where we could drop anchor and have lunch.  And a nap.  A long nap.

Mike woke me up, and I remember looking at the reddest person I had ever seen.  Then the pain hit me.  Not only had I done it again, but this time I had inflicted the pain on my friend as well.

The sun was going down as we finally returned to the boat landing.  The manager of the boathouse said we should see a doctor.  I think he was right, but we didn’t listen.  We spent the night bathing our skins in various oils and lotions, and attempting to cool off.  Nothing worked.  Needless to say a second day exploring the lake was out of the question for both of us.

We returned home and dealt with our problems in our own ways.  I saw Mike a couple of weeks later, and he was beginning to heal reasonably well.  But I was still ultra sensitive to the touch.  In fact, my new skin from the first burn was not fully developed before the second burn occurred.  For about six months afterward I found it difficult to go outside during the daytime without experiencing physical pain.  And for almost a year my skin had a pink to light red cast to it.  To make matters worse, I spent much of the next year in Spain where the hot sun is a way of life.

I know you are thinking, “Why didn’t you wear sunscreen?”  But to be honest, I didn’t really know about it.  I had heard of suntan lotions; however, I thought that suntan lotions were only for getting a suntan.  Live and learn.  And it’s a lesson I don’t want to learn again.