Brand building through storytelling

My favorite vacation disaster

The vacations that make the best stories are the ones that go wildly wrong. These are the stories that make your friends glad they were stuck at the office. The ones you’re proud you survived. The ones that still crack you up years later, although at the time they weren’t the least bit funny. Come with me while I relive my favorite vacation disaster. Ready? Away we go…

It’s a rosy summer evening in 1986, at a prime table overlooking the Oregon coast. My family and I have settled into our well-upholstered seats, contemplating the pleasure to come: wild salmon of the highest order. When it comes to salmon, no corner of the world beats the Pacific Northwest. And we won’t be chowing down on just any wild Pacific salmon. My husband and I have done our homework. Word has it that transcendent food, ranking Oregon wines and a soul-soothing room can all be ours at the Salishan Lodge. These delights will knock a sizable hole in our vacation budget, but hey, we deserve one blowout.

Our travel-weary souls are well overdue for some soothing. What was supposed to be a freewheeling, teen-friendly road trip from San Francisco to Vancouver–home of Expo 86, our final destination–has already landed me in emerg and raised fears that my vision might never be the same. At last we’ve put all that behind us. The only sign of my ordeal is an eye patch applied en route by an ophthalmologist. Not to worry, he said. I’m going to be fine.

Tonight at the Salishan Lodge, relief casts its shimmer on everything: the chardonnay, the view, our son’s witticisms. When my salmon arrives, pink and tender amid its artful garnishes, I let mellowness envelop me. The only blight on the moment is my glasses, perched atop my patch at a crazy angle. I take them off and bite into my salmon. Next thing I knew, there’s something lodged in my throat–something hard and sharp. A salmon bone. I cough, I gulp water, I devour chunks of bread, hoping it will push the thing loose. Nothing works. The bone still jabs at me–the the sworn enemy of food, conversation and sleep.

All night in our cavernous room, I lie awake, discreetly clearing my throat. Sighs my husband, “Maybe we should go to emerg.” Then, many huffs and puffs later, “Are you sure you don’t want to go to emerg?” And somewhere towards dawn, when it beomes clear that not even our 14-year-old son has been able to sleep, “That does it! We’re going to emerg!”

No, no, not emerg! Emerg was where our trip had begun to unravel. But there’s no denying the fix I’m in. Either emerg will get me, or the salmon bone will.

* * *

Flash back a day or so to a B&B called The Cowslip’s Belle, in the picturesque town of Ashland, Oregon. The innkeepers have summoned us to one of those buttery, bacon-y, syrup-drenched breakfasts found only at B&Bs, and everyone is exclaiming at how glorious it looks. Everyone except me.

I’ve just given my left eye a nasty cut while putting in a hard contact lens. I’m hunched over my plate in silent agony, tears dripping onto my French toast. At first our fellow guests don’t seem sure what to make of this. When their attention fixates on my husband, I realize they’ve got a theory: he must be a wife-abuser. A noir-ish mood descends on The Cowslip’s Belle, and it’s all about us. Better pack our bags and hit the road. First stop: emerg at the local hospital.

We burst through the doors to find the only other patient, a wild-haired old woman, having a meltdown in the lobby while a nurse tries vainly to calm her. “Not Dr. Hooper!” she yells. “That woman is a menace! All her patients die!” This place is supposed to be my refuge? My knees buckle as the room starts to spin and everything goes black.

When I come to my senses, I’m lying on a table, looking up into the kind, attentive eyes of my healing angel. Like all the best TV doctors, she tells me not to worry, I’m in good hands. Then she tells me who she is: Dr. Beth Hooper.

What did that old harridan know? Dr. Hooper says my eye will soon be just fine. Some drops, a patch and Bob’s your uncle. Or words to that effect. Off we drive up the Oregon coast, a place of wild beauty that can’t hold my attention for long. I’m too worried about my eye. It throbs, it drips and it is nowhere close to fine. At this rate it will never be fine again. My husband can tell where this is going. I will continue bleating about my eye until someone saves me from the woeful ministrations of Dr. Beth Hooper.

Not about to chance another emergency department, we pull up at an optician’s office. There I’m given a vision test by a wisp of a man who looks old enough to be my grandfather. With my oozing left eye, the whole thing is a blur. I’m blind in that eye! The optician sighs. He feels for me, he really does. But I will have to see an ophthalmologist. He knows just where to send me.

We’ve promised our son an adventure up a coastal Yellow Brick Road. We’re giving him a tour of medical facilities–one that’s all about his mom. Is there a better way to try the patience of a teen? Not that Ben is complaining. He seems to have abandoned all hope of fun, waiting stoically with his dad at the ophthalmology clinic while the real expert tells me what a botch Dr. Hooper made of things.

I’ve cut my eye about as badly as it’s possible to do without…well, losing the eye. “Looks like you got poked with a hockey stick. Can’t trust a GP with an injury like that.” But I’m going to be fine. Some new drops, a new patch and we’ll be on our way to the Salishan Lodge.

* * *

It’s the morning after the Night of the Salmon Bone–so early that no one would leave the Salishan Lodge who does not have urgent business at the local hospital in Gleneden Beach. The place looks from the outside like a high-end spa, but instead of scented oils I’ll be getting a tube snaked down my throat–a procedure known as an esophagoscopy. They’ll have to put me under for this, which they won’t do until I sign a form listing all the possible unpleasant consequences. I could choke to death on my own vomit, but I’m not about to live with that accursed bone. Bring on the snake!

Having an esophagoscapy reminds me of lying passed out on the floor at the Ashland hospital, but with a different sound track: I’m not finding any bone… No, not there… I am vaguely aware of an aimless rummaging, as if my throat were an overstuffed dresser drawer and the snake were a pair of hands in garden gloves, groping for a diamond. Find that bone, people!

I awaken with my family beside me, all of us waiting for good news. An exasperated-looking doctor comes straight to the point. “There’s no bone. It must have dissolved by now.”

“But I can feel it.”

“That’s because you had the snake in your throat. You took a few scrapes.” Case closed, as far as he’s concerned. My family buys it. I’m good to go.

I spend the next leg of our drive flopped in the back seat, emerging from my anesthesia haze just long enough to say what no one wants to hear: “That damn bone is still there. I feel it.”

I have said this quite a few times when Ben decides he’s had enough. “Mom! You heard what the doctor said!”

A few days pass. I no longer talk about the bone, but every time I swallow, it announces its place in my throat, assuring me that I am right and everyone else is wrong. It’s like an imaginary friend whose mean streak is offset by unshakeable belief in my superior powers of perception. It’s still whispering to me when we return home to Toronto. We’re greeted by an envelope from Glenden Beach–the bill for my esophagoscopy. Oh, well. We did promise ourselves one blowout.

I figure I’ve now heard the last from Gleneden Beach. So I couldn’t be more surprised when the second envelope turns up. It contains a letter from the hospital’s radiologist with some new information on my case. Turns out the radiologist was not on the scene when his colleagues put the snake down my throat and captured their efforts on film, which he reviewed after the fact. “I have now located the salmon bone,” he writes. There follows, in medical-ese, a precise description of where the bone can be found “should you wish to be scoped again.”

By now the salmon bone is gone. I’m not sure when I last felt it tickling my throat. What we saw at Expo is already a bit of a jumble, like one of those Hollywood blockbusters you think you have to see and forget within 48 hours. Anyone can see Expo for the price of admission, but how many get to live a road-trip saga like mine? I’ll be telling this story for as long as I have words. Lucky me.

Click here to read about another travel misadventure. Have you heard that there are no bad meals in Italy? I managed to find one.

Posted by Rona

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