Eight days ago we took out of the Boundary Waters. I have been out of commission ever since. You probably didn’t even know we were IN the BW, what with all my negligence in keeping you informed on the day to day around here, but nevertheless we were, and last Friday we emerged from our wilderness adventure, once again.
Two days prior to take-out, on Wednesday, I had gotten a little too much sun. Apparently. Most of me was fine, but my lower lip was feeling it. As per usual.
One day prior, on Thursday, we paddled 18.2 miles. Because we’re dumb, and a little bit too stubborn for our own good most of the time. The lip did not like the 18 miles, but it was in competition with other, stronger parts (see aforementioned dumb and stubborn), and it was in no condition to argue.
By the time we loaded up the boats Friday morning to head out, that lower lip was feeling it a little more, regretting its meekness. When we hit the first beach along the North Shore to rockhound en route to home, I had to sit on the rocks and hold my shirt over my lip, so fiercely did it feel the fully-shrouded sun microwaving it through the clouds.
On further beach-stops, I sported a mask, which in this day and age doesn’t even garner second glances. I couldn’t seem to get enough lip balm on.
When we stopped at Little Angie’s around sunset for the post-BW dinner, the bottomless chips and salsa arrived to our outdoor table, and I was famished. The salt was unpleasant. The spicy salsa was worse. But I was hungry. Also, I was cold due to the reservation-required mandate not being explicitly stated on the website and the chill of evening creeping in on us before we were finally admitted to a table and the sunkissededness casting a stark contrast with the night; and at least part of me was sweating while I inhaled my hors d’oeuvres. One would think things would even out eventually.
After seconds on the chips, I was on thirds of ice-water, cooling my lips between bites. My Chicken Wrap landed, and I tucked in. By this point there was considerable huffage accompanying my ingestion. This is also the point, I believe, that I slipped into a mild sun-stroke.
I don’t really remember much more of the dinner. The conversation. The food of my family. The cool Duluth evening. What I do remember is that the intense need to keep eating followed through from the chips to the wrap and fries. I was no longer hungry, but the drive to eat wouldn’t quit. I was sweating like Kevin James, shivering from the cold, and wolfing down as much food as I could, all the while taking in another quart of water to cool the lips. I think there was considerable groaning and complaining, as though I were an unwilling entrant in a hot-dog eating contest seconds after Thanksgiving Dinner. At gunpoint.
The memory does begin flooding back in at the point of dismount. For somewhere along the line, not very far into the binge, I snapped free of whatever coma had me in its grips, and it was abundantly clear that I was about to hurl.
I felt—even though I wasn’t even halfway through the wrap and had only braved 6 fries—as though I’d taken in three Thanksgiving Dinners, and was still shoveling. My lips were ablaze, and my innards were in a pain all their own, struggling under the weight of, honestly, not that much food, but feeling like I’d swallowed a live turkey. The panic rose in my throat. I could feel my eyes glass over. I looked at my husband like he’d have to deliver the food baby like a breach horse. The pain grew so intense that I launched off of my stool and walked out onto the sidewalk, tears burning down my cheeks. I could hardly breathe.
I should take a break here to note that I can sometimes be the tiniest bit hyperbolic in my story-telling. As I feel the words flowing out of me right now, I can see how one might think I’m spinning another tempest in a teapot, and striving to turn my marginally interesting life into Masterpiece Theater on the page. I’ve gotta be straight with ya: Not one bit of the above is embroidered or frothed up for you or anyone else. I was pretty sure we were headed to the ER.
What I think happened here was that I suffered your average run-of-the-mill case of inferior labial partial-thickness thermal wound, or for the laymen out there, lower-lip burn, probably tending towards second-degree, still in it’s formative stages, cuz the cookin don’t stop when the sun goes down. And then, stupidly, I introduced several elements (more sun, salt, JALAPENOS) that furthered the burn, quite literally, right on into the depths of second-degree, until I was staring down the throat of a full-fledged case of sun-poisoning. The kind with the full-body reaction. Where you can’t keep the food in. You’re dehydrating fast. The inflammation thrusts itself well past the point of injury and into your whole system. That’s my theory, from a week down the highway, anyway.
I was unhappy. No amount of water on the lips would quell the inferno. The enraged turkey was thrashing its way up my esophagus. I nearly passed out.
Now there I was, at Little Angie’s outdoor torture chamber, in front of a packed house, with my husband and 2 kiddos, who were doing their damndest to express their concern while still managing to keep things light. Don’t want to alarm the other guests. Don’t want to alert the server and trigger a 911 call. They, I suspect, were hovering between terror and embarrassment, between that surge in the chest when you realize you’re about to be called upon to save a life, and the sink in the stomach when you’re reminded what a drama queen your mom can be… and in public.
At one point, after a few rounds of heightened walking it off and drying tears, I dropped onto Scott’s back like I’d just finished a marathon. Limp and crying. This might have been where the crew realized that I wasn’t being any more hyperbolic in my reaction than I am in my writing today. Scott called for the check and asked if he should walk across to the point to get the van. I asked, mumbling and crying, if the horrified server might bring me a water to go. She’d have brought me a fire-hydrant, I think, if I’d asked.
I walked to the van that night. I couldn’t have sat back down if I’d tried. It was half a mile back to the van; a 15-minute walk including the wait for the lift bridge to come back down. Felt like days. When I fell into my seat, I didn’t know if even then sitting down was going to be a possibility. When Scott pulled away, I was hanging from the oh shit handle and moaning like I was in labor. Come to think of it, that’s probably what I looked like. World’s skinniest pregnant lady gives birth in Honda Odyssey. To a live turkey.
I covered up with the picnic blanket. I continued to suck down water at an unsafe rate. And we hit the darkened road for home.
Fast-forward to now…
I said at the beginning that I’ve been out of commission ever since we got out of the BW. That is truth.
Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday were completely lost. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t eat. The pain was excruciating and relentless. I didn’t sleep at night. I injected the full pharmaceutically-safe dosages of Naproxen and Tylenol. The pain was constant. It took until Tuesday before I could even apply aloe, straight from the leaf, without a near-death experience. Previous attempts were met with panic and tears and an immediate hanging beneath the faucet to rinse the poisons off the lip. There were lots of tears in those first four days. Tears and staring and moaning. That’s about it.
I understand, now, why they induce comas in burn victims. It is the only humane choice.
Wednesday, I ventured out, still hopped up on pain meds, still not talking more than three words at a time, none of them with consonants. I had an errand to run, and I ran it. I even ate food other than plain yogurt. And Ice cream. Ice cream is manna from heaven. But it knocked me out, that outing. Might have taken me back a step or two.
Thursday and Friday, I was able to actually focus on something, anything, other than the pain. I was in no shape to risk out-of-the-house again, but I was able to be upright and coherent in-the-house. It’s been miserable, but tolerable. Lots of aloe. Lots of vitamin E. Lots of water. And ice cream.
And today is the first day I could even think about writing, about the lip, or the trip, or anything at all.
So, yeah, I was truly out of commission. I declared in The Warm Up that the Boundary Waters this year would be a piece of cake. A walk in the park compared to the Coon Creek debacle. I did not think that the sun would wage an attack on my lip this heinous. I stand corrected.
So the exciting news is that I’m sleeping now. And off the meds. And I’ve been watching new skin slowly encroach onto the raw meat of my skinless lip. I can eat regular food, as long as it’s cool and in relatively small bites that I can feed in bypassing the lip.
I was going to tell you about our paddle. Or the glorious day outside my window that I’m refusing to enjoy, for the lip can feel the sun even in the shade. Or the upcoming trip with Scott, the first ever trip sans kiddos, save our honeymoon.
But I’ve shot my wad on the lip, and I think I need a nap. And some ice cream.
If you need me, I’ll be healing,
P.S. I’ve thought several times of taking a picture of the carnage that lives above my chin, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I think y’all should be grateful. I know my future self is.
In lieu of horror-shots, I’ll leave you with a couple of pics of the Goombahs in the Boundary Waters, and one spectacular double rainbow. Quadruple? Does the water count?