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Poetry & Fiction

The Best Birthday

Audio: Read by Wardah Thanvi.

Content note: mention of medical trauma.

There was a pile of books in the middle of the living room floor. As I walked past the pile, I added another book. My mother figured that there must’ve been around fifty books so far. 

“How are we going to take all those books to the hospital?” she asked me one day. 

“We’ll have to have a suitcase for them,” I replied. 

My mother laughed, but her face looked sad. 

I understood why. My mother was worried for me. 

There wasn’t long to go until the big operation. 

 A few months ago, my doctor had said I needed a big operation for my airway in order to make it wider. It would be a very risky operation, with time spent in Intensive Care, and I would be put into a medically induced coma for three days. 

That was very exciting for me. I’d never been asleep that long in my life! 

I knew if the operation failed, I would have the tracheostomy put back in. The tracheostomy was a tube that went into my neck that helped me to breath. I had it taken out around six months earlier, and this was the next step. 

As the days went by and the book pile grew, I packed up my things in order to prepare for the operation. I packed cuddly toys, books, pyjamas, and clothes. I also packed my Nintendo DS and a portable DVD player. 

Once we’d gotten to the hospital, I settled down in the waiting area with my mother and father. 

The waiting room was bright. The walls were painted white and the floor was painted bright yellow. 

Well, it had been bright yellow once. Now, it looked like the same kind of yellow as book pages when they aged. 

My airway surgeon – a tall man with grey hair, dressed in a white shirt, black trousers, and smart shoes – walked over with what felt like an army of doctors and nurses, all wearing either scrubs or smart clothes. 

The doctor looked sombre as he sat down to speak to us. 

“I’m afraid we’ve had to cancel the operation; there aren’t any beds in the Intensive Care Unit. I have tried to call them, but they’ve said no. We’re still going to have a look down, just to see what we’re working with.” 

I knew what he meant by that; he was going to do an MLB (which stood for microlaryngoscopy and bronchoscopy, according to my mother). This involved putting a small flexible tube with a camera attached to it on the end, so that they could look into my airway. 

*

The MLB had shown that I needed the reconstruction surgery, so I was booked in exactly a month before my ninth birthday. 

I don’t quite remember before the surgery. I was nervous. I clung onto my plastic toy fox and racoon, who I was certain would look after me as I slept. 

*

I woke up feeling groggy a few days later. I couldn’t talk, and I had a large tube up my nose. I wrote down a note to my mother. 

It read: Am I at the end? 

She stared at me, alarmed that I would ask such a horrible question, until I clarified that I asked if I was at the end of the ICU ward.

I watched a film on a portable DVD player, but fell asleep halfway through. I never saw the end of it. 

*

The bed I was on in the main hospital ward was in the bay. It was opposite the entrance to the ward, so you could see everyone who came through the doors. 

I stayed in the hospital for a week. I walked about the ward, and I had to learn to talk without putting my chin down to cover the now non-existent hole in my neck. 

I remembered that a few days after I arrived on the main ward, a few nurses came over to cut the stitches out of my neck scar. 

I fought them, which was my natural response to anything that I deemed unnatural. 

And having very sharp scissors inches from my skin was very unnatural. 

I twisted and turned away, and I think I also punched someone. I was just a kid. 

I was just a scared eight-year-old who didn’t know what was happening to her. 

In the end, I had to be held down whilst the nurse in charge cut the stitches away. 

I went home after a week in the hospital. This sounds like a long time, and it probably is to most people, but it felt like a field trip to me. 

*

I had to stay home for a while as I was likely to pick up infections, so I spent my ninth birthday at my grandma’s whilst my mother and father worked. 

It was one of the best birthdays a nine-year-old could have. I got to open a present every hour. I even had some friends round for an after-school visit. 

It is one of my fondest memories.

About Author

Katie Bird (she/her) is a Journalism student from London, who writes about living with a hidden disability and music. She has a passion for reading fiction books, watching Marvel films, and listening to heavy metal music.

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