Humor Magazine

I Celebrated My Birthday at the Hospital

By Katie Hoffman @katienotholmes

I didn’t want to admit it to anyone – not even myself – but sitting in the family surgery waiting room with the commentary from daytime television competing with World Cup coverage on a neighboring TV, I couldn’t suppress the unpleasant realization anymore…

This was shaping up to be the worst birthday weekend I’d ever had.

The weekend before my birthday my mom sprained her ankle, but after she visited an orthopedic doctor that specializes in feet and ankles (gross), I learned “sprained ankle” is just ER speak for “serious broken heel that may require surgery.”

When the orthopedic doc revealed the true extent of my mom’s injury and informed us that a CT scan might indicate surgery is necessary, I already knew how everything was going to happen. It was like that old TV show Early Edition, but without a newspaper, that blind chick, and the oddly sexy Kyle Chandler (…who upon Googling isn’t nearly as sexy as Ron Livingston—I always confuse these two. Sorry I made things uncomfortable by using the word “sexy.” I hope someone watched Early Edition.).

Once I heard the word “surgery,” I felt it in all my unbroken bones: I’d be spending my birthday in a hospital waiting room, because that’s the only outcome that would make sense in my life. My mom went back to the doctor the day before my birthday so the doctor could review her CT scan, and as if to fulfill the prophecy, he informed us that the swelling had gone done enough that should go into surgery the very next day (my birthday)!

Considering I just spent my anniversary at a wake, having the local hospital host my birthday in conjunction with my mom’s heel surgery only made sense. I’m thinking of having my future wedding in a divorce lawyer’s office and delivering all my babies in a graveyard, too.

I don’t make a big fuss about my date of birth—I don’t celebrate my entire birthday month, cross my fingers for surprise parties, or take it personally when so-and-so I haven’t deleted from Facebook yet forgets to write “Happy Birthday!” on my timeline. My aversion to being the center of attention notwithstanding, I’m still (mostly) normal, and other than in jail or at Subway (um, the food chain and method of transportation), the hospital is pretty much the last place on Earth I’d want to spend my birthday. I mean, regardless of how old you are, who would want to sit on uncomfortable waiting room furniture among a bunch of strangers who are anxious, not because they’re waiting for their flash mob cue, but because one of their loved ones is being operated on right now?

But that’s what happened.

I had actually taken the day off work for my birthday, because it fell on a Friday this year. I planned on sleeping a little later (6:30 AM BABY!), going to run some stairs, getting my hair trimmed, and maybe even indulging in a mani/pedi. I’m not really into big birthday parties, so for the night of my birthday I had made reservations to go to Geja’s Café (oh please visit the website—we can discuss the engagement photos section) for fondue and gotten tickets to see Second City’s 102nd Revue ‘Depraved New World’ with my boyfriend (here’s a Second City tip: it says tickets are nonrefundable/no cancellations, buy my boyfriend dropped a dead aunt bomb on them, and they were very nice about switching the show date). Nothing huge, nothing fussy—just an entire day full of things I wanted to do for myself. Even though it was no one’s fault my mom’s heel needed surgery, I was disappointed, and the worst part about it was that the circumstances demanded that I hide that disappointment, because I knew my mom felt like she was ruining my birthday. Still, when she offered silver linings like, “Well, at least you won’t have to take another day off of work!” I had bite my tongue, hold my pout, and refrain from stomping my foot with the remark, “Yes, but today was supposed to be MY DAY.” (Side note: am I the only one who feels like 75% of days off of work are wasted, because when people find out that you’re not working that day they expect you to run errands or hang out with them “because you’re off”?)

I know it seems ugly to be disappointed about my cancelled birthday plans, but I make no apologies for being that selfish. I know my mom needed me, and never once did I make her feel guilty for something as uncontrollable as falling and breaking a bone, but when life rains lemons all over your birthday parade, you’re entitled to be privately butthurt about it, especially when the circumstances are completely out of your control.

My mom’s surgery was scheduled for 12:30 PM, but I had to take her to the hospital two hours early so they could run some additional tests. Going into surgery is a lot like catching a flight: it’s not going to be on time, and by the time you go through all the bullshit just to get to that point, you really aren’t even interested in it anymore.

After they completed the tests, I was sitting in this pre-surgery hospital room with my mom, but it really felt like an uncomfortable episode of Three’s Company because right across the hall, sitting in the exact some spot as me but with a different patient, I could clearly see this random guy. I think we kept staring at each other because Grey’s Anatomy hadn’t prepared us for this situation (all Grey’s prepared me for were some steamy elevator moments with doctors–which didn’t happen).

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 5.34.07 AM

Long after my ass had fallen asleep in the room’s visitor chair, a nurse with an annoying voice came to take my mom for surgery. I gathered up my mom’s belongings and piled them on the wheelchair that I was given to use as a cart to tote everything to the waiting room. While the nurse untangled IV cords and unlocked the wheels on the bed, she said, “Did you give your mother a goodbye kiss????????”


Um. I mean… no? I really had no intention of doing that.

I’m standing in the hall with the wheelchair, and I feel this dude across the hall watching the entire exchange. The nurse narrowed her eyes at me expectantly. It may have looked like I was just standing in the hall, but I was having an inner panic attack brought on by the expectation of public familial PDA. I can’t remember the last time I kissed my mother, and we only hug on occasions at which greeting cards are exchanged. It’s not that I don’t love her–we’re just not huggy people. Maybe because she’s going into surgery I should have planned on hugging her just in case some Donda West shit happens, but I felt really uncomfortable that some hospital nurse was urging me to step outside my affection comfort zone, especially with an audience watching. But I knew I had to do something. If I don’t hug my mom, now, what if the nurse thinks I don’t care about her, or worse, that I somehow caused her injury!? I’ll be investigated for elder abuse!

Even though we were both visibly uncomfortable, I leaned over the hospital bed and gave my mom a little hug. It seemed to satisfy the nurse, and she whisked my mom off to surgery while I made my way to the waiting room.

I checked in at the front desk in the waiting room, parallel parked my wheelchair full of personal effects, and sat on the latest uncomfortable seat. I noticed there was a basket of snacks in the front, but I had no way of knowing if they were free or what the procedure was for taking one. What if the snacks are only for the invasive surgeries? Maybe there’s some unspoken waiting room snack code. I was trying to quell my growling stomach with reason when I saw a procession of waiting room people line up at the snack bowl. As each member of their group walked back, I noticed they had each taken THREE snacks from the bowl. I was mortified on their behalf. This kind of waiting room snack greed was unprecedented!

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 5.34.17 AM
…But since the sanctity of the snack bowl had been violated, I felt totally comfortable going up there and getting a pack of Nabisco snack cookies.

For some reason I wasn’t sure laptops were allowed in the hospital (obviously I think airplanes and hospital waiting rooms have more in common than they actually do) so I brought a wide-rule notebook with me to do some writing. I was a little embarrassed to be using paper and pen, not because it’s outdated, but because I was worried the other people in the waiting room might think I’m journaling about my feelings or something lame like that. Eventually my boyfriend texted me that he was on his way and I was looking forward to having someone to talk to, not because I was terribly worried or upset, but because I had a splitting headache, those Nabisco cookies were not filling, and misery loves company.

I think the real problem I had with being in the hospital alone was that I knew no one there knew I was special today. I mean, I’m sure at least one other nurse, doctor, patient, or morgue occupant was also celebrating their birthday on June 13th, and I was also certain a fair share of people would also die that die, but my disappointment about spending the day celebration-free had inflated my ego, and every moment that passed in the waiting room without a flash mob happening was souring my mood further and further. For the first time in my life, I longed for waiters to sing to me! I wanted birthday pinches! Anything!

Giving my ass a break from the inadequately padded waiting room furniture, I was charging my phone at an outlet near a small kitchenette area. My boyfriend snuck up behind me and presented me with a bright pink gift bag with tissue paper overflowing from the top. It seemed shockingly out of place in the somber waiting room where the nervous loved ones of patients were trying to sit still while waiting for news. I quickly shoved the gift bag behind me on the counter to keep the fellow waiting room folks from seeing it. Sure, I wanted them to acknowledge my birthday, but not like this! There are scruples to my attention whoring.

I peeked in the bag and saw my boyfriend had not only brought me lunch from Panera, but a full box of cookies, a bottle of milk, and a cat book. It was everything I needed at that very moment.

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 5.42.55 AM
Even though other people were munching on miscellaneous bagged snacks and sipping coffee, no one was eating a full meal from the outside. I felt like I was making a spectacle of myself, but those free Nabisco cookies weren’t nearly as filling as I hoped they’d be. So there I stood at the waiting room kitchenette, eating soup and a sandwich from Panera and devouring chocolate chip cookies like I was on death row and this was my last meal. I’m not sure it was entirely appropriate to be so elated in a waiting room, but for the first time that day, I felt like a birthday person, not a person who doesn’t know where to park or a person breathing in the weird hospital aroma of stale vomit and spongy cafeteria food.

I could’ve easily lapsed into a food coma after inhaling my lunch. I was resting my head on my boyfriend’s shoulder when her doctor appeared, and I nearly died of embarrassment because that kind of stuff makes me bashful. I mean, someone could easily come up and kill me in that position, and I want my mom’s doctor to respect me. The doctor shook our hands, ran through his whole spiel about the procedure, informed me he had to insert a plate, shook our hands, and slunk away in his Crocs.

“Your mom’s a cyborg now,” my boyfriend pointed out.

We still had to wait a while for my mom to get out of post-op and recovery, but eventually we were called to the front desk.

“She has a room number now, and she’s on the same floor.” The lady at the desk handed me a slip of paper with my mom’s room number on it.

“Can we go there now?”

“Uh huh! When you come out of here you just have go down the hall, make a left, do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around, and you’ll find a guy named Hans. Give him the password “red cross,” and he’ll lead you to the hall of stethoscopes. If you can solve the riddle there, you’ll find a key that will lead you to a treasure map that holds the directions that will take you to her room. Does that make sense?”

I was confident we could find it on our own, but after rolling the wheelchair/cart in the wrong direction, my boyfriend insisted on going back to the desk and hearing the directions himself. Men.

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 5.33.34 AM

We made it to my mom’s alleged room and entered cautiously, unsure of what to expect. Hospital gowns are unreliable. We found a made bed and no sign of my mom. It was like every movie when the people got to the hospital just a few minutes too late.

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 5.33.42 AM

We exchanged a concerned glance.

“…Did she pass away?” my boyfriend asked. “Are you sure this is the right room?”

I double-checked, and we were in the right place. We parked our asses on an unsurprisingly uncomfortable wooden bench in a hall with stained windows (Christ was there, obviously). Eventually they wheeled my numb-footed and anesthesia-affected mother down to the room. Originally we had been told that she’d be coming home the same day of the surgery, but of course she actually spent Friday and Saturday at the hospital, and she finally was discharged on Sunday afternoon. The main issue was managing her pain without letting her blood pressure get too low. She’s glad to be home and using one of those knee scooters instead of a walker.

I didn’t imagine that I’d be spending my birthday weekend making trips to and from the hospital, but I managed to sneak in a few birthday moments here and there.

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 5.43.05 AM

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 5.43.13 AM


Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 5.33.50 AM

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 5.43.28 AM

…I also had to have that awkward conversation with my boyfriend about how one of my mom’s many nicknames is “Odin,” which just happens to be the Norse Allfather (but that’s not why I call her Odin; I know you’re wondering, but I truly don’t remember why I call her Odin anymore).

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 5.43.20 AM

By Monday, I had pretty much made peace with the fact my birthday didn’t go as planned, so when I came into the office and remembered that Monday was the day my birthday was being observed because I was out of the office on Friday, I kind of wanted to hide in my cubicle, but that was literally impossible because we have a birthday gnome that’s essentially a target for unwanted conversations.

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 5.45.14 AM

Most of my coworkers didn’t know about my mom’s injury, but every time someone came to my desk with a, “Happy Birthday! Did you have fun? How did you celebrate?!” and I had to relive the mostly miserable, stressful, exhausting weekend I just had, I basically gave them an uncomfortable verbal recounting that probably made them regret asking, and I loved every minute of it.


It wasn’t what I anticipated, but I guess my 24th birthday wasn’t so bad, after all.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog