SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - With the first big snowfall, Blake Shamas was eager to start his winter sports season with a few slides down a hill near his South Shore home.
But his winter wonderland quickly transformed into a nightmarish adventure.
"I couldn't see, hit a jump, missed the rail and picked up this nail off the ground," he said Sunday - his 13th birthday - while standing on crutches. He pulled back a bandage on his left knee that exposed a gash where a nail had entered the flesh a week earlier and hit the bone about one-eighth of an inch inside.
Injuries such as his are not unusual for this area this time of year.
Every year, reports blanket the South Shore police scanner - especially on the weekends - of accidents related to sledding. Many accidents involve the back. Others involve the mouth, as people often bite their tongues when they land, said Jean Williams, nursing supervisor at Barton Memorial Hospital in Lake Tahoe. "We get a lot of compression fractures here."
The hazards become more prevalent when the snow fails to cover the ground. And this season's snowfall came later than last year's.
"We tell people to be careful of obstacles and areas where there's a lot of trees." Williams said.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 74,000 sledding- and snow tubing-related injuries treated at hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices and clinics nationwide in 2004. The nation's sledding-accident costs added up to $2.3 billion.
The majority of accidents involve those under the age of 14.
Blake said he had never experienced pain like that before.
"It was like a nail stuck in a board," his father, Willie Shamas, said.
The man recalled how Blake's friend, Tyler Burrow, called to Willie: "Blake needs you."
With the adrenaline kicking in, the father quickly carried his son into the house. The youth was taken to the emergency room. After an X-ray was performed, Blake went in for emergency surgery and was admitted to Barton Memorial Hospital for an overnight stay - his first.
"He was scared. This is a big thing for a 13 year old," his mother, Holly, said, holding up a small plastic bag with the black nail in it.
Now he's having to deal with a growing infection and the possibility of having a metal fragment left inside his knee, according to another X-ray taken Saturday night. The family is hoping that's not the case.