Leave worries behind, take a trip, confident that you won’t have to deal with any wildlife.

Parents, school is almost out, which means it’s time to make those summer vacation plans, load up the family car and take off, quickly, before the kids get home.

I am, of course, joshing. You should take the kids; there’s nothing quite like putting the whole family into the car and hitting the open road, leaving your worries behind, driving mile after carefree mile, sometimes getting as many as three carefree miles before everybody in the car hates everybody else and gunfire breaks out in the back seat.

Yes, medical emergencies can occur on even the best-planned family trip.

That’s why, before you set out, you should familiarize yourself with the: OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT CLASSIFICATIONS OF BAD MEDICAL THINGS THAT COULD HAPPEN ON YOUR VACATION

I refer here to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which is the system used to report medical problems to U.S. government agencies. Alert reader Denise Martin sent me a copy of the ICD, which classifies every conceivable kind of medical problem, including the following, which I am not making up:

E845 – Accident in spacecraft

E912 – Bean in nose

E966 – Beheaded by guillotine

E906.8 – Butted by animal

E842 – Glider fire

E915 – Hairball

E908 – Injured by cloudburst

E912 – Marble in nose

E906.8 – Pecked by bird

E844 – Sucked into jet aircraft

Do not let this list alarm you. Statistics show that, on any given vacation trip, your family is likely to experience no more than four or five of these emergencies – even fewer, if you exercise strict parental discipline (“Jason, you let your brother out of that guillotine RIGHT NOW, or we are NOT stopping at the Tastee Freeze”).

Speaking of sharp objects, you’ll want to be especially careful if your vacation destination includes a rain forest. I say this because of an alarming experience I had last summer when the Barry family held a reunion on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. One afternoon, a bunch of us Barrys packed some healthy trail provisions in the form of a large box of Cheez-Its and drove to the Quinault Rain Forest, which is one of those nature preserves where they put up lots of informational signs with drawings of specific wildlife items that you never see anywhere except on the signs.

For example, if the sign says that the area is the natural habitat of the River Otter, you can be sure that there will be no River Otters within miles of it. The River Otters, who can read at a 6th-grade level, will all be deliberately hanging around the sign for some OTHER animal, such as the Toe-Sucking Bigtail Bat, which meanwhile will be hanging around yet ANOTHER animal’s sign. This pattern continues throughout the animal kingdom, forming what zoologists call the Great Chain of Totally Incorrect Nature Signs.

Anyway, we went to the Quinault Rain Forest to expose the younger generation of Barrys to nature and teach them to appreciate the vital ecological importance of our dwindling rain forests, without which the world would soon run completely out of mildew. The first thing we saw, on arriving in the rain forest parking lot, was a bulletin board with a recently tacked-up notice that said, I swear:


(This was followed by the person’s name and physical description, then:)


As you can imagine, this notice put something of a damper on our rain forest experience. It’s difficult to fully appreciate the habitat of the Northern Flying Squirrel when you are expected at any moment to encounter the Camouflaged Machete Loon.

Nevertheless we followed the little nature trail and read all the informational signs, which appeared to have been written by graduates of Extremely Creative Writing 101. For example, at one point, my brother Sam and I were munching Cheez-Its and reading a sign that said, quote:

“Lean your head back; peer into the forest canopy. Search for the subtle activity and listen as the gentle breezes muffle the sounds of life above.”

“Are you gonna do that?” I asked Sam.

“I’d be afraid that a squirrel would go to the bathroom on my face,” he replied.

For some reason, I feel compelled to point out here that Sam is a Presbyterian minister.

Anyway, we got out of the rain forest without any mishaps, and I’m sure that by now the machete person has been captured by the authorities or eaten by otters. So you and your family probably have nothing to worry about this summer; just relax, have fun, and enjoy a totally carefree vacation, wherever you roam, from sea to shining sea. Speaking of which, E-906.3 is the ICD code for shark bite.

This classic Dave Barry column was originally published May 28, 1995.

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