It was probably Marcus Welby, MD, or a similar type of show. Age eight or nine when I watched it, the memory is fuzzy. All I recall about the story is some kid stuck in the hospital for their birthday. The child’s family, along with a dozen hospital staff, surrounded the bed, presenting the birthday kid with helium balloons while singing “Happy Birthday.” Everyone was smiling, including the not-very-sick-looking centre of attention.
So when told I would be getting my tonsils removed the day before my tenth birthday, it was not a difficult sell. My inner drama queen welcomed the adventure, the attention, the sympathy, the break from school, and the helium balloons I was sure to receive. Maybe I’d even get Dr. Welby’s autograph.
The day before my surgery, my parents drove the 60 miles from Amaranth and checked me into the Portage Hospital where I spent a rather enjoyable evening reading in bed. A nice young lady came around to give me a back rub. (Things were much different in 1969!)
The next morning, Dr. Collier yanked out my tonsils. I remember the surprise of waking in more pain than I’d ever experienced and wishing they’d let me go back to sleep. The rest of that day remains a blur, except for the frequent offerings of ice cream, sherbet, and Jello—all of which I stubbornly refused in order to avoid the pain of swallowing.
The following morning, I felt alert enough to know it was my birthday. I tried to share this information with the first adult who came around, but I could only whisper. My voice was gone and I couldn’t make her understand me. I was still in pain, I couldn’t talk, and I hadn’t seen my family since they left me there. What a relief when Dad arrived mid-afternoon to take me home! I’m sure some acknowledgement of my birthday awaited me there, but all I remember is I didn’t speak or eat for a week.
45 years and several surgeries later, this memory came back with my recent birthday and made me cry for that disappointed ten-year-old. Why it chose to surface now, I’m not certain. But something about elaborate children’s birthday parties has always bugged me—a fact which, in itself, bugged me. Why did I hold such a miserly attitude? Why couldn’t I fully engage and celebrate a child’s life with joy, instead of begrudgingly feeling kids don’t “deserve” showers of toys and attention merely for staying alive one more year? Could my mature, 55-year-old self seriously feel jealous of little kids?
Yep, I think she could. More precisely, the little girl inside her could.
Ignoring the hurts of childhood, big or small, does not make us better adults. But exploring them can. You may need help with the tougher ones, but don’t sweep them under the rug. It pays to take heed when you experience strong emotions over events that seem trivial, or when memories emerge. Time does not heal all wounds. God does. In time. When we invite him into the middle of them.
I think even Dr. Welby might agree.