As Lulubelle has pointed out, May is melanoma awareness month, and it's nothing to laugh at. But let me tell another sunburn story in which I laugh at myself, not at my damaged skin or the dangers it could lead to.
Chicago in spring is a lovely thing to experience—what can be green becomes green, the lake is lovely to stroll beside, the crazies come out of their winter hiding place. My college was situated at a busy intersection with very little green. We had trees planted in holes cut out of the pavement and little or no grass, but we did have a roof. My dorm building was ten stories high, and we often used the roof to enjoy the sun away from the street noise. It was an ugly place to be, but if you closed your eyes, it could be whatever you wanted. You could be in Aruba if your imagination was powerful enough.
One day I went up to the roof with a passel of other girls, and I stretched out on a large towel to take a short nap and feel the sun on my skin. After about 45 minutes, I went back down to my room on the eighth floor to freshen up and do whatever was on the schedule. I don't remember feeling uncomfortable at all, but they say a sunburn really kicks in at sundown. Why is that? I don't know, but at sundown it did certainly kick in. The odd thing is that I was only burned on my calves. I'm not even sure if I had tanned anywhere else, but my legs appeared to be burned as if I had tried to roast myself on a spit, one that wasn't able to rotate so that my shins were as pale as the rest of my winter self.
Sarah, a friend who lived across the hall, put some kind of ointment on my legs which was supposed to help. We had not yet learned that you shouldn't treat burns with ointment, and you never put butter on burns. This ointment felt great going on, but it only served to hold in the heat, and it melded with the charred skin. By bedtime I was dizzy and shaking and vomiting. Sun poisoning. My roommate helped me to hobble across campus to the infirmary, and the nurse helped me into a bed where I would spend the next day and a half.
Is there no training for kindness and sympathy in nursing school? Is there no instruction on how to be nice and motherly to patients? I tip my hat to nurses for the work they do, but more often than not they tend to have the bedside manner of a gym teacher. The woman who checked me in that night was a delight, but the nurse on duty the next day was determined to teach me a lesson. I should have known from the twisted grin and gnarly hands as she walked in the room to say "good morning." She ripped back the sheet on my bed and slapped ice packs on the backs of my legs. As I groaned and gripped the edge of the mattress, she rearranged the packs harshly while asking me what I had done to myself. I believe there was a lilt in her voice as a reaction to my discomfort. I told her about a brief respite on the roof of my dorm building and how I had no idea what was happening. For the rest of the day, Nurse Ice Pack would be in charge of my care and would administer treatment by inflicting further pain.
She was married to the head of the communication department, and I didn't want bad things reported back to the man in charge of my major. So, I took her ridicule and scolding, and each time she "freshened up" the ice packs on my legs, I smiled and said, "Please, ma'am, may I have another?"
I promised never to sun myself on the roof again, and I promised never to find myself in her ward with something as stupid as a sunburn. Jiminy Christmas. I never did go back up on that roof, but as you know from yesterday's story, I didn't learn to be careful in the sun.