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My 21st Birthday Was Ruined By An Emergency Hospital Visit

“You know what they say about hope. It breeds eternal misery.” Spencer Hastings’ quote from the pilot episode of Pretty Little Liars never rang more true than it did for me on my 21st birthday. Like a lot of young American adults, I was buzzing with excitement in the weeks before it. People would stop assuming I was the DD — now, I could get into any bar with my friends and buy my favorite alcoholic seltzer on my own accord. And I was going to have a big celebration for this huge milestone. All my life, I’ve never gotten the birthday party that I had really wanted due to delegating the task onto others, so I decided to just throw it myself. I was so excited… until I wasn’t.

Being born in 1999, my 21st birthday finally came in 2020 — and I don’t need to explain to you what happened that year. The guest list for my party immediately went up in smoke, as I didn’t want to risk anyone’s health, but I was OK with it. There’s a silver lining in everything — I’m not much of a people person in the first place, and hosting anything can be mentally taxing anyway.

I still bought the balloons, the helium, and the cake. All was going so well until the day before my birthday.

I woke up not feeling well and a bit more tired than usual. I decided to rest for the day so I could be at my best for my 21st. But when the big day came, I had major stomach pains and a headache. To top it off, I had to get my driver’s license renewed, and the line at the DMV was an hour long. (My ID photo now features my “crazy eyes,” brought out by the intense pain I was in.)

I picked up my cake from the bakery, went home, and got back in bed. I didn’t blow up the balloons or set up any decorations. A few hours later, I ate one bite of the homemade birthday dinner my mom made me, blew out my candles, and slid back under my covers.

After a short nap, I woke up in even more pain — my mother promptly took me to the hospital. The nurses tried their best to help by giving me painkillers over the course of three hours, but nothing helped. By midnight, I was admitted to a room, and my doctor proceeded to give me a shot in my stomach once a day for three days (and I would be lying if I said I remember what it was or did — but it did help, and that’s what matters). The pain subsided — though the diagnosis was still unknown — and I was released to go home.

I felt, for lack of better words, embarrassed. Embarrassed that I “failed” at having a birthday celebration for myself, let alone it being such a milestone year. 

My 21st birthday took a turn I didn’t even think possible. Pandemic? Check. DMV hell? Check. Spend the night in the hospital due to relentless stomach pains? Apparently, check.

I had expectations for my 21st because of how I grew up. Whether it was in movies, on TV shows, or (especially) on the internet, all I saw were young adults commemorating their special day with family and friends. The icing on the cake (the one I didn’t get to eat) was seeing posts from friends whose 21st birthdays fell around mine. It almost felt like their joy was being rubbed in my face, regardless of the fact that no one knew what happened to me. 

I, too, wanted to make the once-in-a-lifetime Instagram post about turning 21. This moment in American culture is showcased on social media like a parade for all to see. It heightens the expectation that we have for one another, and for ourselves. I felt, for lack of better words, embarrassed. Embarrassed that I “failed” at having a birthday celebration for myself, let alone it being such a milestone year. 

To say I was disappointed about my failure of a birthday is an understatement. I was distraught. I laid in my hospital bed feeling miserable that I didn’t get the experience that I wanted, the experience I saw on social media — the experience all my friends had encountered.

If you had a bad 21st birthday, too, or are expecting your upcoming birthday to be a disaster, just know you’re not alone, and it’s OK. Not only do people go through life at different paces from one another, we also experience life events differently. Not everyone has a drama-free, lavish party surrounded by all their loved ones. And if that’s not even what you want to begin with, that’s completely fine, too. 

I had to grieve my 21st and remind myself that it was just one birthday of many. I had to remind myself that everyone will get what they need, even if they don’t get what they want. Every day is special, and one bad day does not make a bad life. One bad birthday doesn’t refute the fact that I turned 21. You don’t need to meet the expectations others have set for you.

So grieve… and breathe. Hope can only breed eternal misery if you let it.

Camden Spann

Youngstown '24

I am a Senior at Youngstown State University achieving a degree in Merchandising: Fashion & Interiors with a double minor in Journalism and Creative Writing.