Ah, Lake Tahoe.
The name alone conjures up images of some of the most-spectacular scenery in all of America. And if you’ve been there, you immediately realize that all of the hyperbole about Lake Tahoe can’t do the place justice.
–There is the lake itself. Lake Tahoe sits at an elevation of 6,225 feet, and goes down 1,645 feet at its deepest point. Take away the Great Lakes and Lake Tahoe is the biggest lake in the U.S. by volume. There is so much pristine, natural, alpine water in Lake Tahoe that it could cover all of California, 14 inches deep.
–There is the gorgeous scenery of the nearby snow-covered High Sierras. If you’re into skiing, some of the best slopes in the country surround the lake. Some places let you ski right into and out of wherever you are staying. And at some places, you can walk across the street from you hotel and right onto a lift up to the slopes.
–For the gambling types, the Nevada state line is a short drive, or in some cases, a short walk away. You can go into any casino, drink like a lush and smoke up a storm, if you so choose, and blow the mortgage on blackjack (Why did you hit on 17, anyway?).
–And there’s also the emergency room and staff at Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe where, less than 24 hours after my family and I arrived in town, my six-year-old daughter was being treated for pneumonia. And hives, too.
Yes, you could say one of those things seems out of place when you think about the typical Tahoe trip. And there was nothing typical at all about what was supposed to be our week-long relaxing and fun vacation that turned into a 72-hour turn-and-burn trip home due to an unexpected medical emergency.
This wasn’t to be our first visit to Lake Tahoe, but it was our first in a few years. We last made the trip three-and-half years ago in the fall of 2013. At that time, it was my first-ever trip to Tahoe and the place was so spectacular that we swore we would come back again, and soon. After all, Lake Tahoe is barely a four-hour drive from our home in Oakland. Many people in the Bay Area are used to spending two-plus hours a day commuting to and from work, so the thought of sandwiching a weekend visit around almost 200 miles of driving there and back isn’t out of the ordinary.
But, as what often happens when you have young kids, our plans changed. Things like weekend soccer games would come up. And, well, when faced with the chance to go to Hawaii or Disneyland, we chose Kauai, the Big Island or the Magic Kingdom over Tahoe.
But, when considering the expense of four plane tickets to Europe, my wife and I looked over at our daughters, who at the time were finding new ways of screaming at each other due to a disagreement over a pencil. The thought of this kind of horror taking place at 37,000 feet on the way to Paris was enough to shelve any thoughts of taking Maddo and Little Sis to the City of Light until they turn 40. We brought the hammer down and set aside a week at the Stardust Lodge in South Lake Tahoe that coincided with our kids’ school’s Spring Break. From Sunday to Sunday, Tahoe would be our neighborhood.
Only we evicted ourselves after less than 72 hours.
Coming up on Lake Tahoe from U.S. Highway 50, the view from Echo Summit’s 7,382-foot elevation is nothing less than spectacular. Our anticipation and excitement grew as we followed the winding road and got closer to South Lake Tahoe, and the lake itself. Everything seemed to be going well. We even made it to the Stardust in time for the Sunday night “welcome” dinner of lasagna and a rundown of how the resort is offering such a great deal–but only just right now–on purchasing a week a year in the unit of our choice. We were off to a good start.
And a little more than 24 hours later, we rolled Little Sis into Barton Memorial’s emergency room.
Monday started off well enough, with some breakfast and a walk around the Heavenly ski village. But, by the time the girls had finished playing on some swings at a lakeside park, we had a feeling something was up with the kid. Normally, she’s full of attitude and personality and never says no to ice cream or other treats. However, on this day, she acted like there was no gas in her tank.
And when a rash developed just under her right ear that soon spread down her neck and onto her arm, it didn’t take much more for my wife to say the emergency room was our next destination.
We live in Oakland, which has gotten a bad rap in the past. No, not everyone in Oakland is packing all the time. But, a trip to any of the city’s emergency rooms will leave you thinking that everyone in town got in the same accident, broke the same leg or is having the same bout of undiagnosed illness all at once. And as such, going in for a simple broken finger (like I did three years go) can turn into a two-hour wait before you even see a doctor’s face. And then there’s the hours-long sojourn through a hospital’s maze of exam rooms that can drain so much of your spirit that you’ll start looking for anyone, from the chief of surgery to an orderly, to euthanize you.
But in South Lake Tahoe? Well, there it was “Step right up, sir!” No waiting at all. We checked right in and were on our merry medical way.
And that way took us right into the wonderful world of pneumonia.
We got that diagnosis shortly after being sent into an exam room where a couple of technicians wheeled in a portable X-Ray machine and took a look at Little Sis’ chest. The conclusion was for the kid to take some Benadryl for the rash and antibiotics for the pneumonia. Pretty simple stuff…For a rational thinking adult.
But, for a six-year-old kid?
This is a person who didn’t think twice about picking up and eating a marshmallow that she had just dropped onto the pavement of a 7-Eleven parking lot. But, try to get her to take a dissolvable, cherry-flavored Benadryl tablet or half a teaspoon of liquid amoxicillin?
If you have kids, you probably know where this scene went.
At one point, there were two nurses and myself trying to hold down Little Sis and squirt what was probably an eye dropper full of Benadryl into the kid’s mouth and get her to swallow the stuff. It was like wrestling five baby raccoons covered in oil. Whatever we managed to get down her throat didn’t matter; our sense of accomplishment was short-lived because the girl almost immediately threw up it, and whatever else was in her belly, all over herself.
My wife couldn’t look. I said something intelligent like “WHOOOOOAH NOOOOO!” By contrast, the nurses were cool, “We do this every day,” said one.
It was going on 11 p.m. and we knew too things: One was that Little Sis would be staying the night at the hospital. And the other was there was no way Maddo, our eight-year-old who is the dictionary definition of an “active kid,” would be able to stay the night at the hospital. She had already “showed herself” by asking me to help her get Netflix’s “Fuller House” on the iPad while I was trying to avoid getting kicked in the face by Little Sis during the aforementioned Benadryl Experience. We decided I would take Maddo back to out timeshare hotel and my wife would stick with Little Sis.
We parted ways in an attempt to get some sleep. I think that by the time Maddo and I turned in, it was after midnight. And it was about 2 a.m. when I woke up to go to the bathroom. And 3 a.m. when I woke up to go again. And 4 a.m. when…You get the idea. All this waking up during the night wasn’t because I was worried about Little Sis. I’m just at that point in life where my bladder seems to have a shrunk to the size of a walnut and my nights consist of waking up between one and 13 times feeling like I’m about to explode. After the third bathroom trip, I gave up, put some show about World War I on the iPad and accepted my fate and and the day that lay ahead.
After Maddo and I got up for good, we did like most good Americans do and loaded up on breakfast stuff from McDonald’s. I didn’t know what, if anything my wife and Little Sis had to eat at the hospital, so I just bought a bag of everything on the menu. When we got to the hospital, Little Sis had broken out into another rash, but other than the creeping redness working its way down her back and legs, she seemed to be in a good mood.
My wife, however, was that emotional state that only mothers of small, sick children know. She vacillated somewhere between “mildly concerned” and “panic-stricken”. (Kind of like how I get when watching a Seattle Mariners game.) I did like any hungry dad would in that situation and dug into a Sausage McMuffin while offering up, “Guess she needs some more Benadryl,” as my medical advice contribution.
Soon enough, we were back at a reply of the prior night’s wild wrestling scene as I and a few nurses tried to get some liquid Benadryl into Little Sis’ mouth. The fight that ensued caused us to give up pretty quickly and go to the miracle medicine delivery technique that is the shot.
I didn’t know that you could get a shot of Benadryl, but after Little Sis nearly kicked out my front teeth earlier, I was all for bringing out the needle. The kid didn’t really know what was coming until the nurse jabbed her in the thigh. Little Sis’ crying was intense for a few seconds, but like most kids, was mitigated by that thing that all kids think fixes all ailments: a Band-Aid. This kid loves Band-Aids so much that I think one of those would make her feel like a compound fracture of her femur was no worse than a fingernail scrape.
After a few more hours, the doctor said we could go and he sent us on our vacationey way to fill a new prescription for some kind of antibiotic that had about 17 consonants in its name. By the time we had Little Sis loaded up into our car, we had been at Lake Tahoe for about 44 hours, with 15 of those being spent at the hospital. Yeah, our vacation was off to a one-for-the-books start.
We pulled into the South Lake Tahoe CVS pharmacy and dropped off Little Sis’ prescription for amoxicillin. It would take the pharmacy 20 minutes or so to fill it, and that allowed me to do one of the few things that actually worked out in my favor during our Tahoe stay:
Bet on the Seattle Seahawks to win the Super Bowl.
Our hotel was within spitting distance of the Nevada state line. And if anyone knows anything about Nevada, it’s that it’s the land where betting on sports is the state sport. Three and a half years ago, when we went to Tahoe for the first time, I stepped into the Montbleu Casino’s sports book, put $20 on the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl, and four months later, the Seahawks beat the life out of the Broncos, 43-8 and I pocketed $60.
So, hoping that my gambling efforts would lead to another Seattle victory, I dropped everyone off at our hotel and then blasted over to the Montbleu. With hopes of a Seahawks championship and a fatter wallet dancing in my head, I laid $50 on Seattle at 12-to-1 odds to win it all this next season. Only 10 months to wait and see if Russell Wilson & Co. make my investment worthwhile.
It was just Tuesday, and we still had five days left in our planned vacation ahead of us. But, we knew we weren’t going to last that long. We spent most of that evening, and part of Wednesday, trying to get amoxicillin and Benadryl down Little Sis’ throat. as we did this, we awaited the South Lake Tahoe police taking their battering ram to our door due to the girl’s volcanic caterwauling of “NOOOOOOO!” at levels that could wake any hibernating bears in the greater region.
Luckily, no other hotel guests reported us for child abuse, and we finally got enough of a dose down Little Sis’ gullet to call it a night. And the next day, we called it a vacation as we loaded up our stuff and hit the road home.
It might have been for the best, as a big snowstorm was expected to start hitting the area on Thursday night and not stop until Saturday. My wife has no experience with driving in snow. She feared that if we stuck around, even with a four-wheel-drive Jeep Liberty, we would get snowed in and stuck in the hotel parking lot. Either that, or, if we did make it to the highway, the first snowflake to touch one of our tires would send us spinning off the road and down a few thousand feet to our very untimely deaths. Better to leave early when the roads were clear.
We were home by dinner time. It wasn’t the vacation we had planned. And if we have any ailments on our next one, we won’t be able to just drive home in the middle of the week.
That’s because our next trip is to Hawaii.