Life is weird: lessons from a birthday gone wrong

Life is weird. I had great plans for my 69th birthday. I was going to swim from Sokha Beach to the pier at Ochheuteal Beach and back. I’ve made it to the open water before, but still had quite a distance to go. I went swimming every couple of days to get in shape for it. I was also going to have a big birthday party. My birthday happened to correspond with the opening day of Sopheak’s restaurant/bar/guesthouse and she had invited friends to the party at her new venue.

On Sunday night, I felt a mild pain in my side. On Monday morning it was still there, so I decided to rest and skip my “marathon” swim. By 3:00 p.m., the pain was intense. I called Sopheak and she came over in her boss’s Lexus and took me to the doctor. He poked around a bit and then announced that I had appendicitis. He couldn’t do the surgery, but gave me something for the inflammation and told me to go to Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital immediately. Sopheak drove me home, threw a few clothes into a backpack and drove me to the hospital, about an hour’s drive from Sihanoukville.

Life is Weird: Lessons from a Birthday Gone Wrong

Life is weird that way. You can have grand plans, but something can get in the way of them. In my case, it was appendicitis. Not only did I not get my birthday party, but on the day of my 10th anniversary in Cambodia, I had my appendix taken out.

I could have been depressed about it all, but it seemed like fate arranged a more perfect birthday for me than I could ever have imagined. My relationship with Sopheak has changed. She now calls me “Papa” and thinks of me as the loving Papa she never had. That’s fine with me. She was way too young for me when I married her. I still love her, but our new relationship is much better for both of us.

One could argue that I made a mistake marrying someone so young. I don’t think it was a mistake. I was there for her when she needed me and she’s there for me when I need her. We both have our freedom, but our relationship is still solid. Sometimes you have to be adaptable in life. As William Blake wrote: “He who binds to himself a joy, doth its wingéd life destroy; but he who kisses the joy as it flies, lives in eternity’s sunrise.”

That bothered some people, who said she would dump me. She insisted she wanted to take care of me in my old age. My birthday proved to them and me she was telling the truth. She dropped everything, including the opening of her restaurant, to take care of me. To make sure I was okay, she stayed the night. Then she got her little brother to stay with me until they let me out of the hospital three days later. No one has been saying she’s going to dump me since she took such care of me when I needed her.

I shudder to think what would have happened if I’d gone back to Australia, as some people suggested. I would have had to deal with the appendicitis alone. There’s a very good chance my appendix would have burst and I’d have peritonitis or worse to contend with.

I still got a birthday party of sorts. It was just a cake and some flowers and the party was over in ten minutes, but it was a party. Then I was ordered to go upstairs and rest. It was another five days before the local doctor, a very good Ukrainian doctor, told me I could ride my motorbike again. I asked him if I could swim, but he told me to wait at least a week after I got my stitches out before I tried to swim. Even then I was supposed to dog paddle only. Stretching my body out might not help the healing process.

Sopheak was even more strict. She told me I couldn’t swim for a month and put me on a bland diet. I rebelled against the latter and went to my favorite restaurant. Sure enough, I got a stomach ache. The food was too rich for my still recovering body. Now I’m back on bland foods. I’m not thrilled about it, but I have to look at it in perspective. I will recover and who knows? Maybe I’ll make that swim in time for my 70th birthday.

I’m a little weird that way. I like to do something challenging on birthdays that mark the ageing process. Before my 45th birthday, I went on an epic surfing trip. Lucky I did, because about two months after by birthday, I got sciatica and couldn’t surf for over a year. Even then I wasn’t able to surf waves as challenging as the ones I surfed before my birthday.

As Robert Burns wrote: “The best laid plans of mice and men/Go often awry/And leave us nothing but grief and pain,/For promised joy!” I’m not sure about those last two lines. It’s really all in how you choose to accept your fate. In my case, I think fate handled my birthday and anniversary perfectly. I would have enjoyed a party, but fate taught me a better lesson. I’m glad life is weird that way. If everything went according to plan, life would be pretty uneventful.