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Room 223 This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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The sun shone through the cracked blinds, reflecting off the white walls, the white bedding, and my father’s white face. He was exhausted from treatments and the long hours he had to lie in his hospital bed unable to even feed himself. I walked in and barely recognized him. My dad hadn’t been looking well for a while, but that day his hospital gown hung from his body as if there was not enough of him underneath to hold it up and his eyes were caved into his face encircled in dark shadows. He saw me and forced a smile, “Happy Birthday,” he said.

On July 31st, 2001 I turned nine and had to spend my birthday in my dad’s hospital room. It was the middle room on the second floor on the right hand side of the corridor, two doors down from the nurse’s station: room 223. My dad had been in and out of the hospital for the first few weeks of July. Something was wrong, but no one knew what. On July 27th, he was admitted to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and diagnosed with small intestine cancer. The prognosis was grim and beyond the expertise of BMH.

I woke up on my birthday resenting my dad. It was my birthday, but my dad was being transferred to a hospital in New York so he could undergo surgery, and I was being shipped off to stay with my aunt and cousins. I was turning nine and no one seemed to care. I had been to my dad’s stuffy, blinding white hospital room everyday since he had been admitted and I didn’t want to go back. What was the point? To stare at his unfamiliar face, watch him struggle to shift his body in an attempt to get comfortable, or say goodbye to him, my mom, and my older brother?
Just thinking about walking those sterilized halls made me cringe, but presents were involved, so I sucked it up. Forcing a smile I watched my mom pack up the car. She was taking my brother to New York with her, while all my stuff was already shoved in my aunt’s van with my cousin Megan sitting shot gun. All five of us went to the hospital to open presents and for me to say goodbye to my dad, for who knew how long.

My mom had her friend bring in a rich chocolate cake that offset the glistening white room. It was my mom’s small attempt to not let my dad’s cancer completely derail our lives. I sat on the edge of my dad’s hospital bed opening presents and shoving them in his face. I wanted him to be as excited as I was when I ripped open the birthday balloon wrapping paper and discovered that I finally got a portable CD-player and the new Britney Spears CD. Instead of his eyes lighting up as mine had, I caught him sigh and gently squeeze them shut to try and muster up any amount of energy so he could stay awake to watch me blow out my candles. The nurse walked in to check up on my dad and saw the cake sitting on the bed. She quickly turned back around and returned with matches. “This is against the rules, but we’ll make an exception. Just don’t tell.” She gave me a wink and lit my candles. I took a deep breath and blew all nine of them out. I closed my eyes and I wished for my dad to get better. I wished for him to get out of this hospital room and come celebrate my birthday with me. When I opened them however I was still sitting on the edge of the hospital bed and my dad was still lying there trying to guard his pain with a small smile.

This white room with beeping machines and plastic wires that stuck in my dad’s arms was the last place I wanted to be that morning. I wanted to open presents in my kitchen with my mom, dad, and brother. I wanted my mom to make me pancakes and have a birthday party in my backyard. I wanted to blow out my candles on my porch with my friends sitting around me begging me to tell them what I wished for. None of that happened. As I sat on the hospital bed I listened to his soft, strained voice try to keep up with the conversation. All I had been worrying about was myself, making it hard to see the bright side of my not-so spectacular birthday. My dad was alive, he was there to watch me open my presents, and see me blow out my candles.

My newly nine self just saw the disappointments. I saw my mom dumping me on my aunt because she didn’t want me to go with her to New York. I saw my dad getting sick just in time for my birthday. I saw my perfect party plan being replaced by the nurses singing me “Happy Birthday” instead of my friends. Everything went wrong, except in reality nothing could have been better. My dad was alive and with him transferring to the hospital in New York the chance of recovery was much higher.

I left room 223 with my new gifts in hand and my dad’s weakened smile imprinted in my mind. He was able to push past the whiteness of his face, ignore the beeping machines and the nausea stirring in his stomach to enjoy my birthday with me. Although disappointment flooded my thoughts throughout the day, as I left the hospital I was just glad that my dad had kept his eyes open long enough to watch me blow out my candles. His battle wasn’t over, but I knew he had the strength to win it.





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