It may seem like I've been doing a lot of complaining lately about the sunburn on my feet. Last Saturday, my birthday, I went to the beach on Fire Island (Robert Moses State Park) and despite my best attempt at applying sunscreen, missed my feet. Saturday evening, they felt hot and sensitive and generally like a run-of-the-mill sunburn, but by Sunday, despite applying some lotion, they hurt even more as I walked around Brooklyn before flying home, and on the homeward flight itself they swelled beyond the size of my shoes. At work Monday, my feet were so sensitive that I could hardly stand to walk on them at all and was limping around the office like the old man that I am. At that point, it was no longer just the red skin that hurt, but the muscles and tendons and even the bones seemed to feel pain. The soreness had penetrated to a depth beyond the reach of my ointments.
I couldn't sit zazen Monday night, but fortunately sensei was there and filled in at the attendant's (doan) spot. I sat in a chair for probably my first time ever at the zendo, and even then still felt pain and once finally seated on the floor for the discussion period, couldn't get back up without lots of help and time.
I'm not normally a complainer, but the pain was getting worse and worse with each passing day, not better like a typical sunburn. My feet were also getting redder by the day, and horrid water blisters began appearing late Sunday evening, some of which subsequently broke from the friction of my attempts at wearing shoes. There are pictures below, but I'm warning you now that they aren't a pretty sight, and I'm rambling on here a little bit so they they don't appear on your computer screen unless you willfully scroll down to see them (you've been warned).
After Monday Night Zazen, I stopped at the pharmacy and bought the following:
- Hydrogen peroxide to disinfect the broken blisters
- Gauze to cover the blisters
- Adhesive tape for the gauze
- 2 7/8" x 4" band aids
- 2nd Skin Moist Burn Pads
- Bactine Cleaning Spray
- Burn Jel Plus Moisturizer with Lidocaine
Despite my best application and use of these projects, the condition continued to worsen and I had to call in sick at work today because I physically could put on neither shoes or socks, and barely tolerated supporting my own weight on my feet as I tried to stand. So here goes - this is what they looked like:
Pretty gross, huh? Any young ladies out there want to give me a toe job (LOL)?
New water blisters were starting to form over the old broken blisters, and the swelling was constricting my foot muscles to the point where they were not working properly (hence the pain in walking). I learned on line that when the first layer of skin has been burned through and the second layer of skin is also burned, blisters develop and the skin takes on that intensely reddened, splotchy appearance. This is called second-degree burns, and they produce severe pain and swelling.
That sounded like what I had. According to the Mayo Clinic web site, "If the second-degree burn is no larger than 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) in diameter, treat it as a minor burn. If the burned area is larger or if the burn is on the hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks, or over a major joint, treat it as a major burn and get medical help immediately." This burn was well over 3 inches - it ran from my ankles to my toes, and was over my feet. I read on another first-aid web site that 2nd and 3rd degree burns could swell tissues to the point where they cut off circulation, and if you felt a tingling sensation you should go to the ER immediately before gangrene set in. I felt a tingling in my numb toes and didn't want to lose any digits, so I finally (finally!) called my doctor and made an appointment.
He looked at my feet briefly and declared the burns to indeed be of the second degree, and gave me a shot of penicillin for potential infection of the broken blisters. He also prescribed me an antibiotic and told me to buy some Claritin as an antihistamine for the swelling. He advised me to keep my feet elevated (I already had noticed that they hurt less when laying in bed or propped up on an ottoman), stay hydrated, and to use an aloe/vitamin E skin lotion. He offered me some pain killers but despite the intense pain, I declined (not to be macho, but to avoid even the risk of dependency).
I've been following the doctor's orders and the swelling and reddening are already abating. The Claritin seems to have made the biggest difference (who would have guessed?). If you find yourself with similar burns for whatever reasons, I advise you to follow the on-line advice and seek medical attention immediately. But these are hard times and I know that many out there do not have health-care insurance or can't afford treatment. Out of compassion for the suffering of those, while I still encourage you to do everything possible to get free or affordable help at a clinic, if all else fails, at least buy some Claritin to control the swelling and use peroxide to keep the wounds clean. And see a nurse or doctor.
The Buddha or Dogen probably said something appropriate to my current situation, but you know what? - I'm in too much pain right now to go look it up. I know, I know, but there, I've said it. But I am looking forward to being able to resume my zazen practice again soon.