March 04, 2005

Dry Heat, Shmy Heat

Thanks to the Irish component of my mutt-like ancestry, the sun is hardly my best friend. I've always envied those who glisten and fry to a golden tan after basking for hours on end, year after year. Throughout my youth, my mother issued many warnings and lectures, but the one that stands out foremost in my mind is "don't stay out in the sun too long, you'll pay dearly." Still every summer, like some self-punishing ritual, I would do just that and end up burning and peeling like an over-baked crescent roll. I don't do this anymore; there's a very good reason why.

Back in 1980 after settling nicely into my new Las Vegas lifestyle, I decided it was time to get some color. One incentive to do so was showing up to work looking like a glass of milk next to every one of my colleagues. These people, for the most part, were hard-core Las Vegans and between my heavy New York accent and my near transparent skin tone, I was the brunt of many chuckles.

On a particularly bright and beastly hot afternoon, I ventured out to one of the three swimming pools at our apartment complex ~ towel, radio, and Stephen King novel in hand. Yes sir, I was going to enjoy this day off and work up a lovely tan.

Since I don't do science or numbers, I can't prove that the sun shines stronger in Las Vegas than it does in the east, but I can attest to the fact that 110 in the shade is fucking hot. As a side note, when I moved back east later on, I came pretty close to strangling people who would invariably say to me "oh yes, but it's a dry heat." Quoting a clever comedian from years back, I just looked at these special, ignorant people and said, "so is my oven but I don't want to sit in it all day."

I stretched out on one of the lounge chairs, set my radio up and started to read my book. Soon after, I was joined by a lovely girl who was one of my neighbors. The two of us chatted briefly, then she dipped her tanness into the pool and did a few laps ... I was surprised to see how quickly she returned from the water, grabbed her purse and headed back indoors. She was a native Las Vegan, one of the very few I would ever meet.

After a very short time, surely no more than an hour, I started to feel extremely uncomfortable. I couldn't put my finger on it but it was almost as though I'd over-eaten, over-drank and over-slept, all since I'd left my apartment! I decided to put off my "tan" to another day, gathered my things and headed back to my building. My first clue that something was terribly wrong was when my sandals hurt with each step I took. There was just a thin strap loosely strung over the top of my foot yet it felt as though they were three sizes too small.

When I first got indoors, my skin began to tingle slightly, but I attributed this to the drastic change in temperature as my air conditioner ran 24 and 7 out there. When I headed to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror, I stared blankly at the stranger looking back at me. On that very day, I had single-handedly invented an all new shade of red. Suddenly every inch of me hurt. Since there's no really clever way to describe it, it was just as though I had been lit afire.

Shortly after, my companion at the time came home for lunch. He looked at me with a pathetic stare as I laid on the couch trying not to move my cheeks as tears rolled out of my eyes.
"You didn't!" he said quietly.
"I did," I whispered shamefully.

He suggested a trip to the emergency room and since I could barely move my mouth enough to speak, he got no resistance. I was in untold agony from the top of my head to my swollen feet. To get me to the hospital, he had to gingerly wrap a lightweight, cotton robe about me as I cried out each time I tried to move another limb. Once in the car, he raced to the nearest emergency room where they brought out a wheelchair for me. I felt so stupid, but not nearly as stupid as I felt sick and scared. It was as though my brain itself had fried.

After a short wait, I was checked out by a doctor who made way too many stupid sunburn jokes then lectured me about how pigmentation plays a role in the tanning process. Gee, ya think?

I was given a mild sedative to offset the uncontrollable shaking. They immediately started an IV drip to rehydrate me, issued a megadose of steroids and gave me something for pain. The people at the hospital were quite friendly and each of them explained they had seen this type of thing a thousand times before ... people trying to rush a process that has to be approached patiently and for several years before achieving that Midas-touched look. I remained under observation for several hours, then finally released with strict instructions.

For the next several days, I was an absolute waste of human-ness. I couldn't even get myself to the bathroom alone and was in no shape for work or play. To add insult to injury, I smelled like a salad for a week from all the vinegar baths (which helped tremendously, by the way). My skin peeled off in sheets for what seemed like two weeks, and I became so sun-paranoid that I wouldn't even look out a window unless I really, really had to. Sun poisoning is a bitch.

I have never enjoyed the sun since then. I avoid it like the plague. In fact, my favorite times of year are spring and fall when I can count on dismal, overcast days with a hint of warmth in the air.

I guess an hour of 118 degree sunshine was just a bit more than my Irish skin could handle.

*Though this has little to do with the sunburn post, I have to share one further incident involving Las Vegas sunshine. Growing up in New York City, you close your car windows and lock the doors at night. You just do. It slayed me when I first arrived in LV, to see all the open car windows all night long. I couldn't understand why people would leave them open. Until ...
I got in my car one day on my way to work, rolled down the windows while gasping for air, and simply leaned back in the driver's seat. I heard a slight, muffled sizzle and felt a sting. The spot where my bare right shoulder touched the baking vinyl of my seat sported a visible blister for several days. Anyone for dry heat?*


Blogger GeorgeMikey said...

I sympathise and regret that I did exactly the same in Spain on my first day but realised too late and in a dash to get to my room to be ill, I was sick into the childrens pool which resulted in about 40 gagging parents slagging me off as I ran past them.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Sask 1 said...

Being a fair skinned european myself i've been there and done that.The lengths we go to to try and get the bronzed look when god intended for us to be white and pasty.i think we all learn our lessons the hard way.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Grant said...

Anyone who makes the "dry heat" assertion should be immediately set on fire.
"Quit crying, ya baby! They're dry flames."

12:22 PM  
Blogger Wally said...


You brought back memories of my left arm filled with blisters from leaving it hang out of my taxi cab's window. (I drove for Yellow cab in St. Louis, Mo., many years ago!). As for: "Anyone for dry heat?" No thank ya! But, I do have a lot of "Canned Heat" albums that I still listen to! ;-) I really enjoyed your story.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Becky said...

Makes me "almost" glad I live in Mississippi - even though I haven't been able to breath since the 3rd grade and clogged sinuses and boogers have their own zip code here......

1:21 PM  
Blogger Swifty said...

Nicely told as usual. Unhurried, unlike the 'blistering' pace set by lesser writers. I think this is the secret of a good yarn.

Muchos Gracios (I hope that means what I think it does)

1:55 PM  
Blogger Becky said...

Carol, may I have your permission to put a link to your site on my pathetic little blogspot? I don't know the rules about this sort of thing, but I'm Southern - and we Southerns try our best not to terrorize people without asking permission first.

2:07 PM  
Blogger brooksba said...


I sympathize. I have so much northern European in me that I fry in the sun as well. I've never actually tried to tan because I just know how quickly I burn. Once I went to visit some family in Texas and in a half hour in the pool (wearing water-proof sunblock designed for babies mind you), I got a burn bad enough to make me sick for a week.

The sun is the main reason why I choose to live in Minnesota still. I couldn't handle it if it was sunny all day long and all year long. I've also made the comment, "You can dress in layers. There's a point where you can't remove skin if you're too hot." I'd much rather be cold.


3:27 PM  
Blogger John said...

Great story Carol! Sorry you suffered so though. And I thought my sunburn in 1968 when I was a kid was bad.

You grew up in New York City aye? I want to visit NYC some day. There are many things there I'd love to see.

I think that bad burn in '68 made me a bit uptight about the sun too I guess you could say, because I never got a bad burn again...

6:25 PM  
Blogger happyandblue2 said...

Not being fair skinned and living in the land of the cold heat (Canada) I have not had this problem.
I feel for you though...
Next time use a self tanning product. It will make your skin a healthy orange color, hee,hee..

9:47 PM  
Blogger Santanu said...

Hey Carol, never thought it would have been such a painful experience when I requested for it in my comment to your last blog.
And superb narration...I almost felt I was going through it!!
We Indians are lucky in this aspect, I suppose! We don't burn so easily in the sun and heat. But then, being Irish has other advantages

6:10 AM  
Blogger CarpeDM said...

The sun is evil! Evil!

I hate heat. It is awful. Like Beth said, I have often told people the same thing - I can always put on more clothes if I'm too cold but if I'm too hot, once I get naked, I'm screwed. It's not like I can remove my skin.

I hate that stupid "but it's a dry heat" comment. It doesn't matter, dammit! I don't like the temperature above 70 in Minnesota or Las Vegas. My mom keeps asking me when I'm going to visit her in Arizona. Um, never.

It's been between 40 to 45 degrees this week and I am in heaven. I hate Minnesota in the winter and the summer but oh, how I love spring and fall.

8:20 AM  
Anonymous Clark Haehn said...

Enjoyed reading your posts.

9:27 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home