(217) Surviving My 27th Birthday

It started on a Sunday in July. I was at a baby shower for my sister-in-law’s first baby. Throughout the day I felt a pain in my shoulder, upper back, upper chest — it kept moving around. Something just didn’t feel right.

The next day it continued. I was at my friend Lynn’s house. She and her husband insisted I go to the emergency room. Lynn took me. They found nothing except “elevated white blood cells.” They suggested I see my regular doctor for a follow up.

I went to my doctor. By then, the pain was gone.

Life went on. I went to Cedar Point and found that some rides made me quite sick — something new.

Then as we entered August, I felt sick again. I didn’t go to work, and my friend Becky took me back to my doctor. He said I had the flu, and gave me some pills. I took the first pill in the parking lot of the drug store and threw up. Neither Becky nor I knew what to do, so she took me home so I could rest. I lived alone at the time, and just wanted to sleep.

I was sleeping deeply when the phone rang. The clock said 7:30. I heard my friend Mary Beth’s voice on the phone, talking about my upcoming birthday. I was trying to figure out why she was calling me at 7:30 in the morning. It was actually 7:30 in the evening.

I was so sick, I had lost track of the world.


I met my friend Carol when we performed together at a show at my church, St. Richards. She had come over from another parish, St. Patrick’s, to be in our show. We maintained contact, and the next year she brought a whole slew of people from St. Pat’s to be in the St. Richard’s show: Mary Beth, Paul, Nora, and two guys named Dan. They were a group to be reckoned with as they loved to laugh, dance, sing, and have fun. They would do things like pile in a car with just chocolate chip cookies in tow and drive to New York City just to dance on 42nd Street or sing “Don’t Rain on My Parade” on the Staten Island Ferry.

I had started a relationship with my now husband Jim, and part of our dating life included going out with the St. Pat’s crew to hear a cover band called Earthrise play at the Westlake Holiday Inn.  We loved Earthrise (this is not the Minnesota band that has videos on YouTube).  Our favorites were “Celebrate,” “Let It Whip,” and “Old Time Rock ‘n’Roll” — Jim taught me to jitterbug to the latter and it was a blast. It was our favorite Friday night activity.

When Mary Beth called me, it was to firm up plans for my birthday. It happened to fall on a Friday, so it was perfect timing. Jim and I planned to go to dinner, then to the bar to celebrate my birthday further. I told her I was sick, but she wasn’t having it.  She let me know I was expected.


I am not sure of the days here, but by early morning Friday I was really having a hard time. I know I was running a fever and the pills had done nothing. I called my doctor. He told me to go to the emergency room. Alone and afraid, I called another friend, Cheryl, who lived nearby to take me to the hospital. I just couldn’t picture the flashing lights of an ambulance coming to my quiet little apartment. When we got there, the emergency room was empty, which was great. But then a guy came in with a heart attack. They left me lying in a room in pain, as they attended to the other guy. Suddenly I felt something let loose inside — I cannot explain it any other way. Cheryl was not one who could handle the pain I was in, so she begged off as soon as someone came to tend to me.

Eventually my doctor showed up and no one could figure out exactly what was wrong. When they pressed on the right it hurt. When they pressed on the left it hurt. Everything just hurt. He said they’d have to cut me open. I said fine.

It was my 27th birthday.

I had surgery. My appendix had perforated and the poison had spread through my system. It must have been that feeling I had when I was in the emergency room. No one has ever come right out and said it, but if I hadn’t gotten to the hospital, I would not be here writing this now.  (The pain I had felt the weeks prior was radiating pain from an inflamed appendix. I did not know there was such a thing until this happened.)

The night after my surgery I was lying in the room, all hooked up, and thinking, I have to call my friends. They are waiting for me to show up at my party. I thought about asking a nurse to call, but then I probably just fell asleep.

The next day I did call Mary Beth, and she was MAD. She said they had a cake and the band all ready to sing when I came in, and I never came.  Once I got through to her that I was indeed in the hospital, then she felt terrible. The crew came to visit me a few day later, and made me laugh so hard I popped one of my staples.  Of course, they made fun of me for having “designer staples” rather than good ol’ stitches.

On Sunday my brother visited me with the news that his daughter, Emily, had been born that morning.

Holding my niece Emily for the first time. John on left, Martin on right.

A year later, my birthday was on a Saturday. It coincided with my 10th year class reunion, so we arranged to celebrate my birthday with Earthrise on Friday. When we got to the bar, the band began to sing, “Happy Birthday” and my friends rolled out a cake. The script read:

Happy Birthday.

Get Well Soon.


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