When I was in my teens and early twenties, my favorite summer activity was to lay out in the sun. I would bake for hours! When the first indoor tanning beds/booth opened in my town, I was the first one in line when they opened their doors. The worst part is I never really tanned, at least not that beautiful golden glow all my friends were blessed with. Instead, I always burned. My mother would always yell at me, “Please stop, Joann. You’re going to get wrinkles when you get older.” It’s funny because back then, tanning and skin cancer was never mentioned (or if it was, I ignored it).
Around 1989-90 (not sure of the exact year) my sister, friends, my cousin and I decided to go to Ocean City, Maryland for Memorial weekend. For years we did the ritual “Jersey shore” thing, but that year we decided to change it up. We were all so excited and couldn’t wait to get there! Our hotel was right on the beach and that’s the first place we headed. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining; it was in the low 70’s, but a bit windy. When the wind kicked in, it was so cold. At times, we would all be putting our sweatshirts back on, trying to cover up. We really tried to just deal with it because we figured, as the day went by, the temperature would increase and the wind would die down.
As we were laying there talking about nothing in particular, a photographer came up and asked us if we would like to have some photos taken to remember our Memorial weekend vacation. We all looked at each other, smiled and said, “Yes!” Off came our sweatshirts and our beach photo shoot was on! Now, let me tell you a little secret. The photographer was so good-looking, we were more than ready to pose for him! Lol! We were in our twenties, in great shape and wearing one of our many new bikinis from Venus Swimwear. Ahhh, those were the days! Even though I never got in the ocean, I had a bikini for every day of the week.
Anyway, back to the photo shoot. We must have taken at least 50 pictures. He got some of us together, some of us alone, standing up, posing in the sand and near the water. It was so much fun. I was finally living my 80’s high school dream of being in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit photo shoot (at least in my head!). The good old days!
After we finished the photo shoot, we were so tired. It’s hard work, you know, posing and stuff. We decided to lay down and try to get some sun before heading back to our room. We were all looking forward to going to a restaurant with an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet we had noticed a few blocks from our hotel.
Well, let’s just say the next few hours weren’t anything we expected. We all fell asleep on the beach. None of us had sunscreen on. We fell asleep for maybe 2-3 hours! We finally decided we had enough fun at the beach and started to pack up our beach bags. As we were doing so, we all felt so strange.
We walked to the hotel elevator and I looked at my sister and my cousin. Something didn’t look right to me. I looked again and I said, “Wow, you two are so red.” My cousin said to me, “So are you!” We realized we must have gotten a little too much sun but had no idea, at that point, how bad it really was.
As we made our way to the room, we all started getting chills, feeling nauseous and a burning sensation that I had never felt in my entire life. I remember looking in the mirror as soon as I got in and I couldn’t even say anything. We were extremely red, but it was beyond the normal red sunburn you are used to seeing; we were blue. I said to myself, ‘okay, we need to get some aloe. Aloe will make us all feel better.’ Again, I was clueless. There seriously wasn’t enough aloe to help any of us. We decided to push through, take our showers, put on our nice summer clothes and head to that buffet we were all looking forward to.
Right before we left, we were feeling awful. Everything from extreme chills, burning, headache, fatigue, dizziness and unable to hold ourselves up. We decided to call my aunt and ask her what she thought we should do. I remember her saying, “You girls need to be more careful! Go to an emergency room and see if they can give you something for your burn.” Back then, there weren’t many walk-in medical centers like there are today. So, we asked at the front desk where the nearest hospital was. The woman told us they didn’t have one on the Island and we would have to go back to the mainland. What?! Forget it. It was just too far to drive. She did say, “We do have a small emergency clinic a few blocks down. They may be able to help you.” Mind you, the look on her face as she was staring at all of us was a look of sheer horror. At that point, I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, she is so rude.’
Since the walk-in clinic was in the same direction as the buffet, we decided to have dinner first. For the life of me, I have no idea why we thought we needed to go to dinner first. Mind you, we could barely walk. We struggled, and I mean struggled, to get to the buffet. It was only about four blocks away but, between trying to duck the sun and stay upward, it was hard. We had two other people with us who didn’t burn at all, mainly because they were darker skinned and already had a base tan. They also didn’t use sunscreen that day but, again, we were initially white as a ghosts. Luckily, they helped us all the way to the buffet. We made it! We got inside and, of course, there was a wait. It was brutal. As if the wait wasn’t bad enough, you can only imagine how difficult it was picking up food from underneath the warming lights on a buffet! Ouch! It was torture. Every time I think back on that day, I can’t understand how we were so stupid! Lol!
We got to our table and my cousin was sitting across from me. We were talking and I was blabbing away. Then she said to me, “Joann, I can’t see you.” I look up and said, “What? What do you mean you can’t see me?” The next thing I knew she was face-down in her plate of crab legs! She passed right out! After a second of shock, we all stood up, asking for help as everyone around us was rolling their eyes and ignoring us. No one would help us. It dawned on us that they thought she was drunk and passed out! We literally dragged her out of the restaurant and all the way down the block to the walk-in clinic. Now, not only were we burning, we were scared out of our minds!
The doctor took my cousin first; she was in bad shape. They immediately hooked her up to an IV and a heart monitor. She was having some issues with her heart racing, so they wanted to monitor her for a while. The doctor examined my sister and I next. All three of us, had first- and second-degree burns. It was awful. Never in my life have I ever experienced that kind of burning sensation. You could literally smell our skin burning. As the night came to an end and they finally released my cousin, we knew we really screwed up. We were given shots, medication and orders to see our doctors immediately once we got home. We knew that we had to make our way home the next day. We had ruined our vacation and we were completely miserable.
The next morning, we were all exhausted. Taking turns trying to help each other sleep comfortably, we hardly slept at all. We had a 4-hour drive home and we had come in two cars. We were trying to figure out who could drive each other safely, but we still had to pack our bags and it took us forever. We had a hard time standing, couldn’t move our arms and our hands were swollen to the point where they were useless. But that didn’t stop us from making one more asinine move before leaving! We remembered our photo shoot from the day before and we had to stop to get our pictures. Seriously?! What the heck was wrong with us?! I will never forget the look on the photographer’s face when we essentially crawled into the shop to pick them up. We all leaned on the counter just to hold ourselves up. It was sad; truly a lack of better judgement mixed in with a little 20’s naivety. We didn’t even give him the opportunity to try to upsell us on anything. We just said wrap it all up, threw down our money to pay for them and left with our swimsuit beach photo memories. I still have those pictures. I am hoping to be able to share them with you here if I can find them.
My sister wasn’t in any shape to drive. Forget my cousin; she laid across the backseat as I drove all the way home. What should have been only four hours, turned in to an 8-hour torturous ride home! The traffic was horrific and, at one point, I had to wrap a beach blanket around the side window because the sun was killing me. When we finally got home and my mom opened the door, you could tell she was mad. Plus, the fact that she yelled at my sister and I, “What did you two do?! Look at you two! Oh my God!” She helped us in and for the next week she applied wet dressings to both of us. She had to take a week off from work to help us. I was supposed to start a new job that week, but made a point of appearing in person to explain why I couldn’t start. They must have really questioned why they hired me after seeing what an idiot I was. Luckily, they gave me the time off to heal.
It didn’t get better any time soon after arriving home. I spoke to my cousin and found out that she noticed her ankles turning blue and went straight to the doctor. She had to get another shot as toxic poisoning was setting in. And, guess who was next? My sister and I had to get the same shot a few days later. Ugh.
It took a good month before we were all starting to feel better. We were lucky we were left with very little scarring. Of course, we learned our lesson the hard way. We all use sunscreen religiously and you won’t find any of us baking in the sun these days. We are the ones you’ll find under the umbrellas, wearing UV clothing and sun hats! I never stepped foot in a tanning bed or booth again after that! All of my skin care products have sunscreen in them and, if something doesn’t, I always apply it! We were young and foolish and it’s something we will never forget!
So, did you worship the sun when you were younger? Do you still bake now or have you discovered any self-tanners that work just as well? I’d love to hear in the comments below.