One Whale of a Sunburn

Gray Whale in Langley, Washington. Photo by Cecilia Kennedy

A fiery, brilliant Pacific Northwest sun came blazing out of the sky and smacked me hard—really hard—on the legs on Mother’s Day weekend. To be fair, I wore sunscreen everywhere else— but my legs—on the weekend that Nate, Alex, and I walked along the Whidbey Island beaches for nearly 5 ½ hours. I figured I wouldn’t care if my legs got a little sun kissed, but just a few hours to several days later, I cared. I really cared. I had a lot of fun while I was getting burned. I didn’t feel it at all. In fact, I felt extremely happy because we saw a gray whale—without even trying! It’s like it just showed up for Mother’s Day weekend and said, “Hey, Moms! Enjoy this!” And then it put on a “show” for at least 30 minutes in which it scooted along on its enormous back tail (fluke), turned on its side, exposed a flipper, and then moved closer.

Me: Oh, Nate! This is the best Mother’s Day present ever! How did you manage this? Did you tell the whale to come to the town of Langley at precisely 3:11 p.m. so that I could see it?

Nate: Yeah, sure. I said, ‘Hey, my wife really wants to see a whale ‘in the wild,’ do you think you could show up and just do some whale things for a little while? Let her get some pictures?’ Here’s how it all went down:

Gray Whale: Sure, I could show up. I mean, I’ve got to eat anyway and that’s kind of when I eat. I hear the weather will be good, so yeah, I can manage that.

Nate: How much do I owe you?

Gray Whale: Normally I charge about $100 per half hour, but hey, man, I’ll do this one for free because it’s Mother’s Day and everything.

Nate: Ah, gee, thanks—that’s really cool. What do you think you’ll do—in terms of whale stuff?

Gray Whale: I’ll spout some water and flash a flipper every once in a while. If you haven’t seen it before, it’s kind of interesting.

Nate: Sounds good. I’ll bring the wife and kid over for sure.

So, with the sun still smacking down hard on the backs of my legs, I whipped my camera out and started taking photos. Nate preferred to film videos, which is what most people nearby also did, but I really wanted camera shots. In that moment, I remembered what Nate, a huge  fan of National Geographic, once told me about professional wildlife photographers: If I wanted the “perfect shot,” I could do what they did, which was to  just keep snapping hundreds of pictures. One or two would probably work out.  So, I figured that whatever worked for professionals should surely work for someone armed with a camera phone and zero education in photography. I just kept taking photos on my phone and ended up with what I think are some pretty good nature shots of a gray whale doing “gray whale things” on a sunny, sunny day:

Several hours later, when I returned home, my legs hurt. They really hurt. Of course I’m still concerned about long-term damage I may have done in terms of skin cancers resulting from unprotected sun exposure, but in the meantime, I had the immediate stinging, searing pains to deal with. So, here are the steps I followed to obtain some kind of temporary relief:

1) While in the store later on that day, I looked for Solarcaine, but I couldn’t find it, so I tried another product: Alba Botanica After Sun Lotion (85% aloe vera). It didn’t do much right after my burn, but I use it now that the burn is gone—just to add moisture to my skin. It works really well on dry skin, but it did very little to relieve immediate pain from the sunburn, so I moved on to step two below:

2) I took Tylenol.

3) When I could return to the store the next day, I used Solarcaine, but I just found out now that “caine” products are no longer recommended, at least according to this article by Mayo Clinic Staff.

4) Drank lots of water.

I also ran on the treadmill for 30-40 minutes two days later and maintained my regular exercise program throughout the week, which I think helped with blood circulation to relieve the pain, but there are precautions to take, according to people with actual medical degrees. For instance, if you are experiencing chills or signs of dehydration, working out is probably a bad idea that could lead to more severe health problems.

My burn though, has mostly faded now and I don’t have any more pain, but it was a little embarrassing to walk around town with red and white striped legs this past week. I could almost hear peoples’ disapproving thoughts: “Isn’t she like in her mid 40s? Shouldn’t she know about sunscreen by now?” And, I just wanted to shout to passersby, “I know! I know about sunscreen! I’ve heard of it! I didn’t use it on my legs on Mother’s Day weekend and they got spanked HARD as you can tell, but I saw a gray whale and it exposed its enormous flipper and spouted water for over 30 minutes, and who’s thinking about their legs when that happens?”

In Other News: A fictional short story I wrote called “Ab Machine Belt Device: A Customer’s First-Hand Account” has been published in the literary magazine, Softcartel. Feel free to pop over there and have a look. Click on the title of the article above to follow the link.

Your Turn: How do you protect yourself in the sun? OR: Have you ever seen a rare animal “in the wild?”






27 thoughts on “One Whale of a Sunburn

  1. I’m a man with blond hair and very light skin. When I was a kid, I burned a couple of times. It was so bad i had a fever and couldn’t go out (or to school) for 3 days. I don’t take my clothes off in the sun anymore, I don’t bathe in the ocean or any of that, because I only need about 20 ´minutes to do me in. Instead, I watch the fools from the shade 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I had a sunburn behind both knees because I fell asleep on an air mattress at a Mountain Lake. The blisters we’re as large as my knees in the other side. I will never forget it. Glad you are healing

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I usually forget to put sunscreen on because I am in the sun so rarely. And it is just so gross. It leaves my skin all sticky . . . yuck. But, since the last time I got burned I have been trying to remember. After I got burned I used lavender and coconut oil to relieve the pain. I am glad you are feeling better.

    So cool you got to see a whale!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks–I love these pictures–they were so fun to take. Lavender and coconut oil sound great for relieving sunburn pain–I’ll have to try that, but hopefully, there’s no “next time.”

      Liked by 1 person

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