The night before my ninth birthday, I had a piano recital. I was to play the "Marche Militaire," and I was a little nervous. I got home from school feeling kind of wiped out, like I had been hit by a very small bus, and my throat was sore and tingly.
"I don't think I can play tonight," I told my mom weakly.
"You'll be just fine," she replied with a smile. "You've practiced so hard!"
My mother thought I was merely trying to get out of the recital. In actuality, though, I really wanted to play. It was just that I was beginning to feel more and more like my joints were filled with sand and my throat with fire. However, I apparently seemed close enough to normal that I was deemed fit to perform.
I went up to the piano and managed to play my little piece (right hand AND left hand!) without throwing up or passing out. My mother told me later that she had been very worried about either of those alternate possibilities, since my face had gone roughly the color of cottage cheese while I was playing. I don't remember much about that night at all, except that I really, REALLY wanted to go to school the next day. There was nothing better than going to school on your birthday, because you got to bring a treat and wear a birthday hat and have the other kids sing to you.
My mother tenderly tucked me into bed, assuring me that I would feel better after a good night's sleep, especially because it would be my birthday when I woke up!
She was wrong.
I felt like I might shiver to death. Or burst into flames. Or both. Or that my throat intended to turn itself inside out at any moment and swallow the rest of my being. In any case, I was in no shape to be the queen of my classroom that day; I was running a temperature of 104F. I wobbled to the couch and lay on my stomach, feeling the room spin in ways that I would not feel again until well after I turned 21.
One doctor's visit, one throat culture, and fifty-four minutes in the slowest pharmacy on earth later, I was again tucked tenderly into bed, this time with a dose of antibiotics to treat the strep throat that I had managed to contract in time to celebrate the start of my ninth year on Earth. But the fun wasn't over.
Our family doctor had gone back and forth on whether I should have my tonsils removed. I was the sickliest kid in my family, and my tonsils had always been rather menacing to my throat.
The Birthday Strep was my second case of strep in one winter, which indicated definitively (more or less) that I needed to have those suckers removed. The surgery was set for the day after Easter. My bag was packed, countless reassuring conversations were held, and prayers were said. Surgery is scary at any point in your life, but it's really scary when you're nine. On the plus side, though, I was a little excited by the prospect of not catching strep throat every winter, as well as the opportunity to consume as many grape Popsicles as I wanted. Not to mention that having surgery earns you some serious street cred in a third-grade classroom. It would almost make up for missing my birthday. Almost.
In all respects, though, the surgery was a success.
I woke up from the anesthetic in my hospital room, where my mom sat watching me. As bad as my throat felt, I was happy to know that my little rabble-rousers were sitting in a biohazard bin somewhere, never to be heard from again. It was also kind of nice, in a way, to be the "tough" kid among my siblings for once -- the convalescent who had bravely gone under the knife and emerged victorious. I lay there, basking in the attention of my mother and the nurses, and awaiting my first of what would surely be dozens of purple popsicles.
Then the phone in my hospital room rang.
Apparently, while I was busy having my evolutionarily unnecessary organs sliced and diced, my younger sister Jenna had trotted out to play with our neighbor Timmy. They had gone down to the creek behind our houses to skip stones together. While they were doing this, Jenna had managed to step directly in front of Timmy while he threw a sharp rock towards the water. Therefore, she was downstairs in the Children's Hospital emergency room, awaiting the receipt of stitches behind her ear.
A nurse brought me a purple popsicle and some children's Tylenol tablets (also purple), and she assured my mother that she would stay with me for a little while if Mom wanted to go see Jenna and our dad. After making sure that I had taken the Tylenol and was semi-contentedly licking the popsicle, Mom headed out the door and down the hall.
I hoped my sister was okay, but I couldn't help but be miffed. That day was MY hospital day. Couldn't she have.injured herself on any other day? The nerve.
COMING UP NEXT: How my OTHER sister upstaged my appendectomy! Totally serious.
P.S. I greeted my mother's return to my room by projectile-vomiting into a bucket. Being full of popsicle and Tylenol, it was purple. Just in case you were wondering.