A birthday on the ward

January 7, 2010

Kat spent her seventeenth birthday in hospital. Christmas time was her undoing. We had established a routine at home since her previous admission. She was eating each meal and staying out of the bathroom for thirty minutes afterwards and putting on tiny amounts of weight each week.

Our family’s tradition is to head for the beach for Christmas. Our beach house has a reputation as a place where people can drop in anytime and join in with whatever activity our family is up to, whether it be sailing, surfing, beach combing, snorkeling, cooking, barbecuing, watching a movie… This Christmas was no exception. My brother-in-law and his family rented the place next door as they did last year. Cousins were often in our kitchen before anyone was up for breakfast. Tents were erected on our back lawn in preparation for New Years Eve, where we planned to do the usual – open house barbeque and a walk in along the beach to watch the fireworks on the pier. We accumulated a loose group of around 25 children and 15 or so adults. We decorated the children in glow sticks so we could find them on the beach walk in the dark. We counted down and danced after midnight.

This we have done every year for a decade. A decade ago leading up to New Year’s Eve the media worried us about the Y2K bug, Sally was three months old and Kat was six going on seven. This New Years Eve, Sally was ten and three months and Kat was sixteen going on seventeen – her birthday is on the 2nd of January.

The chaos of our life at the beach left Kat anxious and unable to maintain her health. Too many people and too much food. She lost two and a half kilos in the week beginning on Christmas eve. Her blood pressure dropped. Her heart rate soared. She ended up back in hospital on December 30th.

Rosie and I drove back to Melbourne to visit Kat in hospital for her birthday. We had given Kat her birthday present early – a pandora charm bracelet. All the relatives knew this and by the end of christmas and her birthday she had eight charms. With nothing to give her on the day, Rosie and I decided to buy some helium balloons.

We went to the party shop on the morning of Kat’s birthday. Hung above the entry to the shop were dozens of brightly coloured pinatas.

“Oh a pinata!” exclaimed Rosie.

“Yeah. Good idea”, I immediately agreed. Memories of stringing up pinatas for our children over the years flashed through my head and it felt like the right thing to buy. Something fun. Something a bit ‘out there’ for a hospital ward. “You choose which one”.

Rosie chose the orange stegasaurus:

We ordered seventeen helium balloons as well. I paid for the pinata and the balloons. For the balloons we had to wait half an hour.

“Hey we need to buy lollies to go in the pinata!” Rosie exclaimed.

“Oh yeah!” I said, “I forgot about that but there’s a supermarket just up the hill. Lets go while we’re waiting”.

“Good idea”.

Taking the pinata out of the shop to put it in the car, I queried the need to buy lollies because I couldn’t see a hole to put them through. I enlisted Rosie’s help. It had been so long since we’d had a pinata I could hardly remember.

“There’s a hole at the top” said Rosie confidently. Together Rosie and I located the hole. I was reassured that it was indeed empty and that lollies were needed.

“We need the type that come individually wrapped”, Rosie added.

“Yeah. I do remember now. And maybe lollipops”.

We schemed as we walked to the supermarket, charged with the excitement of giving and fun of surprising. We were halfway up the hill and in mid conversation before we both suddenly stopped, looked at eachother and in a moment of realisation, almost unspoken, but I think one of us did say something like “Oh god, hang on. Its a ward of anorexics”, but both of us began to laugh and laugh on the street almost doubling over with tears of mirth springing into my eyes. “What were we thinking!” A pinata for anorexics! It was suddenly the most absurd idea in the world and the more we thought about it, the more we laughed. Partly at the idea we laughed, and partly at ourselves for not thinking it through earlier.

In the end we found one packet of low joule sweets, two boxes of confetti and some novelty erasers. We kept the sweets packet so Kat and the other anorexic teenagers could check the contents and calorific value if they had the need to do so.

Kat adored her pinata! She adored her balloons. She peeked into the hole which we had roughly covered over to see confetti ready to burst underneath and with a laugh decided not to crack it in hospital. She was only in hospital for a week. I picked her up yesterday and she is doing well. Yesterday evening she said, “I didn’t mind having my birthday in hospital. I felt happy and we had fun anyway”.

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4 Responses to “A birthday on the ward”

  1. mirabella said

    I hope that Kat will be able to make a sustained improvement this year.

    The years are certainly passing faster. My younger cat (I still have the pencil sketch of her done when she was a little kitten)had her fifth birthday last Friday.

  2. ejenne said

    Kat would have done that sketch when she was 12 or 13!

    She is certainly happier! (and partying like a 17 year old!!)

    I think 2010 will be a good year. Thank you Mirabella xx

  3. katesmudges said

    I haven’t visited for ages, Jenny, and so I didn’t know about Kat. I hope she keeps on improving. My niece is battling anorexia, although she’s in her 20s. Thank goodness for zebra suits and the Sallys of this world.

  4. ejenne said

    Hi Kate, thanks for dropping by xx
    I’m sorry to hear about your niece. I hope she is receiving the help she needs.
    Kat is lucky to have three supportive sisters. They diffuse her anxiety by keeping her connected. She still has a long road to recovery, but we’re in it for the long haul…

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