“Keep your face towards sunshine and it will get terribly burnt.” Sometime during my teens, I twisted the famous Walt Whitman saying about sunshine and how shadows will fall behind you, because sunburn has been a worry since early childhood. The parody quote remains one of my favorites.
One of the stories dad liked to repeat included how much trouble he got into when he brought me on a fishing trip. One day he brought me along to Gavins Point Dam on the Nebraska-South Dakota border–dad’s favorite fishing spot. He was already aware of my extreme sensitivity to sunshine, so he made sure I wore a brimmed hat during our short expedition to the Lewis and Clark reservoir near Yankton, South Dakota.
We spent the entire day in dad’s aluminum fishing boat on the lake. Although my memory is a bit fuzzy about the details–dad probably caught several fish and I probably caught none. Anyway, we had enjoyed a nice father-son weekend outing together. After arriving back home, dad said that mom scolded him about allowing me to get sunburned. Mom applied Noxema face cream to my face (her go-to remedy for sunburn); and continued chewing out my father. To his credit, dad actually did make sure I wore the hat during the entire time we spent on the lake.
Dad then had an epiphany. He figured that the light colored straw hat brim acted as a secondary reflector that enabled the sunshine reflecting off of the water to focus onto my face and neck. From that day onward, dad became protective regarding how much time I was allowed outdoors on sunny days. (Effective sunscreen lotions had not yet been invented, so shade was the only sunburn protection then available.)
Fast-forward several decades later, when I became victim to my own negligence about the Sun. A friend, my sponsor, the sponsor’s son, our driver, and I spent a day at a secluded beach on the Arabian Sea north of Mumbai, India. The sky was clear with the Sun directly overhead at around noontime. The four of us enjoyed some horseplay and splashing around in the water–causing the perception of time to vanish.
Suddenly, I felt a prickly, severe pain on my face and upper torso. I immediately swam to shore to seek shelter under a small grove of trees. Apparently, the sea water had washed off the sunscreen I had earlier applied. My skin had become extremely sensitized to any sunlight–so much so, that even the tiniest ray of stray sunshine felt like fire searing my skin.
Feeling concern, our driver told me to remain in the shade while he walked to a nearby farmer’s stand selling green coconuts. He purchased two for me. He advised that I sip the coconut water slowly and to apply some of it topically as a first aid moisturizer. After our group returned to the hotel in Mumbai, I became nauseous and took a cool shower as a remedy. In hindsight, I should have visited a doctor for treatment. However, at the time, the symptoms had become less severe and I was eager to continue the pleasant vacation.
Upon returning to Nebraska from the vacation, I visited my physician because my face chronically itched and peeled easily. The doctor explained that I had indeed suffered severe sunburn along with a mild case of sunstroke. He prescribed a skin ointment to apply. Meantime, the skin remained flaky for another two months. Thankfully, I eventually fully recovered with no further ill effects.
Meantime, I am much more careful about the sunshine. I’ve also retained an appreciation of and enjoyment of drinking coconut water as a refreshing beverage.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor and filmmaker, Dustin Hoffman. “The two basic items necessary to sustain life are sunshine and coconut milk.”