Cross-Country Road Trip: What Happens in Vegas Stays in the ER

Previously: Cross-Country Road Trip: Magic Medicine in Grand Canyon National Park

The first time I went to Las Vegas, Nevada, it was for a work conference. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever make it back to visit again, so I wanted to make the most of it while I had the chance. I’m not a gambler, and I didn’t want to pay hundreds of dollars to see a live show, so I entertained myself with a challenge: see and do as much as possible … for under $20 USD.


The heart of Las Vegas Boulevard, known as “the Strip.” (photo:

While sticking to “the Strip,” as Las Vegas Boulevard is known, I spent my free day visiting all of the major casinos. I started at the MGM Grand, where I saw their 45-foot-tall lion statue, which happens to be the largest bronze statue in the United States, and their six live lions (the exhibit has since closed). I had a glass of French Champagne under the half-scale Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas ($8 USD spent there) before strolling through The Venetian to see their living statues. I crossed the Strip to check out the pirate show at Treasure Island (which has gone the way of MGM’s lions), followed by the volcano erupting in front of The Mirage. Shopping at The Forum at Caesar’s Palace was well beyond my self-imposed budget for the day, so I settled for a glimpse of the Roman statues and a glass of wine at Spago (another $8 USD during happy hour). I spent quite a bit of time mesmerized by the fountains at the Bellagio, which are breathtaking when they’re illuminated at night. I rounded out my day of sightseeing at New York-New York, where I watched people ride the indoor roller coaster. A pretty solid Vegas adventure for $16 USD!

Over the years, I returned to Vegas for a few more work obligations, but Mike and the boys had never seen it. It seemed like a fun change of pace after days and days of hiking and national parks, so we headed that direction on our way from the Grand Canyon to San Diego, California.

We began our adventure at the place where my first Vegas adventure started — the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. What was the same? The giant bronze lion statue at the entrance. What was different? We didn’t fly into Sin City; instead, we drove a truck pulling a 30-foot caravan. It was like maneuvering a tractor trailer through spring break traffic at the beach.


Thankfully, the MGM Grand security staff was very kind and directed us to a parking lot at the rear of the property designed for oversized vehicles. We made it to our lovely, fresh, indoor room and promptly queued up for showers in a full-sized bathroom with unlimited hot water. Bliss!

The boys really wanted an evening of television and wifi in the room, so Mike and I headed to Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak restaurant for a date night. We shared a huge, beautiful filet mignon with a side of asparagus and some incredible sea salt-crusted milk bread, and it was pure heaven.

Then the evening went straight to hell.

We returned to the room, where the boys had enjoyed a room service pizza dinner, and we all headed to bed. Around 2 a.m., I awoke to the sounds of Mike crying out from the bathroom.

A few minutes later, he was on a stretcher being rushed through the labyrinthine back passages of the casino, into an ambulance, and on his way to the emergency room at Vegas’s Sunrise Hospital.

No, there wasn’t anything wrong with our steak dinner. No, he hadn’t caught Ben’s affliction from the Grand Canyon. He had kidney stones.


The waves of extreme pain subsided long enough for him to be able to joke with the paramedics during the last few minutes of the ambulance ride, and they confessed that he was one of the few sober patients they’d had recently. After being admitted to the hospital and signing waiver after waiver regarding prescribed controlled substances (apparently a big deal in Vegas), he was offered the “souvenir” from his stay (he declined and left those pieces of himself with the Vegas ER for posterity), and we were sent back to the resort by cab.

Now that he was in the clear, I was able to return my focus to the boys, who’d been under the watchful eye of hotel security as they slept and were now awake and ready for their Vegas adventure. We had a fun lunch at the Rainforest Cafe and explored the resort while Mike rested and recovered.


Later that evening, he felt well enough to walk down the Strip so we could see the fountains at the Bellagio.


We were scheduled to check out the next day but decided we could all do with another day’s rest and relaxation at the hotel. In all my visits to Las Vegas, I’d never once seen a swimming pool. Honestly, it never occurred to me to take a look at that part of the hotels, let alone spend time sitting still when there was so much to do around the city.

When you visit Vegas with children, you definitely have different priorities, and children definitely love swimming pools. The MGM Grand has five of them, along with a lazy river best enjoyed by inner tube.


Ben and Zack pausing for a lemonade amidst their 5,000 trips around the lazy river at the MGM Grand Resort in Las Vegas


Who knew there were swimming pools in Las Vegas?


After surviving kidney stones and a trip to the ER, Mike emerges from the hotel room long enough to get bitten by a spider poolside. Needless to say, he hasn’t been back to Vegas since.

The boys had a delightful afternoon exploring the MGM Grand waterpark followed by a good night’s rest, and we were all revived for the second half of our epic cross-country American adventure.

Next up: Cross-Country Road Trip: Back to the Beginning in San Diego, California