‘A terrifying hospital dash threw my birthday celebrations off the rails’

Aug 19, 2019
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Jacqui made plans to celebrate her 80th birthday, but they didn't quite go the way she'd hoped. Source: Jacqui Lee

Who imagines what their life will be like at 80? Certainly we don’t have any idea when we are in the busy family years or those times when we can party till dawn and still get up for work the next day. A misty future, all lavender and lace seems to be our fate.

I planned big for my 80th birthday. A meal with friends and some family the Friday night before, which was booked at the local pub, with a cake made by a beautiful friend. Then in the afternoon of my actual birthday on June 22, I had booked a new venue in our small town, I had about 30 or more people coming. Food was simple, large platters of cheese and dips and olives and bread. Family members came from around the area, friends from the town and a beautiful niece and her partner were flying down from Brisbane.

However, on June 19, my husband appeared unwell; he had been feeling weak and lacking energy for a while, with vague aches and pains. I called an ambulance when he seemed in worse pain. That evening, as his vital signs were normal, their advice was to “see your doctor,” and then they went away.

This went on, so the next day I took him to the local hospital emergency, the pain was worse and he had trouble standing or moving easily. They scanned him and then at about 6pm sent him home again. I was not happy. He limped through the Friday, mostly lying down when he could. Our son and his wife and mother-in-law arrived and we realised my husband, Brian, was too unwell to come out with us. I went ahead as he said he was okay in bed, resting. I had my first party with friends and was not home late, my husband still looked unwell. Saturday he tried to come round and gave me some perfume etc., for my special day. I could tell he was still in pain and became desperate; I rang for an ambulance and had to really fight to get one. Mostly because where we live they were all out.

His pain was severe by now and in the lower right side. I knew that could be appendicitis! I pleaded with them to find an ambulance. Eventually, after trying to placate me as I was really in distress, they found one. It arrived at 11am and he was was given morphine and taken to the bigger hospital an hour away. “I’ll cancel the party,” I said, but even in pain he made me promise I would not.

“Have your party,” he said. “I will be taken care of and you can see me later.” So I promised, and felt dreadful.

Alone in the house I was in shock. I knew I had people arriving from around Gippsland and a niece already driving to us from Melbourne. Our daughter lives in England … I had no one really close to help.

Then I thought I had better get ready and apply make-up, as I looked pale. Suddenly the doorbell rang. It was our niece and her husband, followed by another ring of the bell shortly after they’d settled inside.

“Oh darn,” I said. “They can wait!” but I went after a minute and there on the doorstep was my beautiful daughter all the way from the United Kingdom. I burst into tears, never had I expected she would turn up like this. Certainly not with the drama we had happening. She had arrived from England and stayed in Brisbane with her cousin. The joy was so special to see her, and the comfort was immense.

I rang the hospital, asking for any update about my husband, but there was still no real news. They were doing tests.

We went to the party. I think I operate on autopilot at such times. I had a good time, saw beautiful friends and had a few hours with my mind in two places.

My husband rang me at 6:15pm, as I was going home, and said he was being prepped for major surgery. I told him I loved him. He had kept the secret of our daughter arriving and it was why he wanted me to have the party.

They had taken out a badly burst appendix, it had been close to killing him, he was in intensive care. I was told to expect the worst. He was on almost life support apparently. At the hospital, I had my heart in my throat almost, but he was sitting up and looking almost normal except for a few tubes. He was high on morphine and not in pain.

As a birthday, my 80th was very memorable. Next year I plan a dinner for two. The last six weeks have been hell for both of us, but we are strong and have survived!

Have you planned a big birthday celebration only to not have it turn out quite the way you’d hoped? Have you had a welcome surprise at one of your birthday celebrations?

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