December 6, 2009

My December Birthday: Reflections on Fifty Years of Bonus Life



Wonder how you can help me celebrate my birthday? Visit Carolyn’s Compositions daily—or more—, read as many posts as you choose to (check the index pages on the upper right hand side of the site to locate articles that most interest you), and add as many comments as you dare to on the posts. The person making the most comments on Sunday and through December 10 will receive a special gift.


CAROLYN’S COMPOSITIONS is awarding a monthly prize to the reader who makes the most comments at To enter, comment on any post. The more comments you post, the greater chance you have of winning. For further details click on or visit the page MONTHLY PRIZE FOR COMMENTS at the top of the column to the right.

November winner: Kim Mabee


“Appendicitis gives Councilor Lown the sign he was seeking.”

     The newspaper headline came from the Portsmouth Herald (N.H.) newspaper, September 12, 2003. I was cleaning out my files from the three month New England vacation my husband, Monte, and I had taken (OK, so it’s 2009—and the files were stuck in a box, in a corner, like so many papers are in this house!). Portsmouth (N. H.) Councilman Brad Lown was pondering on whether or not to run for another term as councilman when his appendix provided the answer—no.

     It is likely Lown’s appendix was removed at Portsmouth Regional Hospital, the same hospital where mine was removed.

     I don’t recall the fateful day when I entered that hospital with acute appendicitis. I do recall being very ill and tossing my cookies in a linen closet while on my way to the proper upchucking place.

     My appendicitis attack came on the heels of a case of the flu. By the time I entered the hospital, my appendix had been ruptured for three days. The situation was so dire that the doctors wouldn’t give a nickel for my life. I was rushed into surgery with the expectation that I wouldn’t come out of it alive. But I survived.

     It’s the month of my birth—December. A time to reflect on the fact that I’ve celebrated close to fifty more birthdays than the doctors expected me to have on that fateful day.

     I remember little of the experience. I recall sitting at a table coloring. Looking out the window and waving at my big sister, Nancy Lee, and a couple of other family members. The gut-wrenching screams I emitted when the doctors removed the cat-gut stitches from my abdomen. And my grandmother, reading with me as I recuperated at home.

     Lown was “waiting for some kind of a sign” to help him decide if he should run for another term on the Portsmouth City Council when “all of a sudden I had to have my appendix out.”

     Although it is doubtful that my bout with appendicitis provided me with a “sign (I) was seeking—” what child, at age seven, is seeking a sign?—it had a profound effect on my life.

     Physically, the surgery left me with serious scar tissue. I’ve experienced numerous low-grade physical symptoms, many causing me not to feel well. My response to being considered a “hypochondriac” was to keep quiet and “suck it up.” I always considered myself physically “weak.”

     Most likely the surgery caused my infertility. It was painful to realize that I probably would never experience bringing life into the world—a desire natural to most women. Somehow, however, I wasn’t denied that experience. My son was the result of my only pregnancy.

     There were benefits to the surgery. I learned to continue on with life in spite of feeling under the weather. I developed a stamina that allowed me to confront difficult situations without giving up. I learned—only recently—that I was not a physically weak person. After all, I must have been pretty strong to have survived a three-day-old ruptured appendix.

     But most of all, I learned to value life—not so much during my childhood, but as I grew, matured and, hopefully, gained wisdom. I learned that there is a privilege in “being,” and with that privilege comes a responsibility, a responsibility to give back. The giving is most important if it is done at the being level rather than the materialistic level.

     As I approach the fiftieth year of my bonus life, it is good to reflect on ways in which I have fulfilled that responsibility. The times I faltered, the times I took off running. Hopefully, as life continues, I will be able to continue to live life responsibly—no matter what my situation.

View photos:

     This birthday is a landmark, the ending of a half-century of life that by all rights I shouldn’t have had. It’s time for me seek “some kind of a sign” to determine the meaning of and my purpose during the next phase of my life.

     This birthday is also a fourth year celebration. In August, 2005, I cheated death a second time. I had a stent placed in my lateral descending artery within days of having “the big one,” a heart attack that would have been fatal or would have left me much more physically “handicapped” than I am now. I know, because my sister Jane had the heart attack due to the same blockage when she was only forty-two years old. Another sister, my “big sis,” recently had a stroke followed by a quadruple heart bypass. I hear of their difficulties and realize how lucky I am.

     Meanwhile, I’ve told my daughter. Sandy, that I want to celebrate at the Eastwood Inn in Ligonier, where I expect to order their lamb chops. After all, a half-century of bonus years is something to celebrate!

View photo:

Revisit this site on December 10 to read a birthday poem written for me by Rustie Earle.




 Take Me Out to the Ball Game…So Reluctantly I Go



The “Meow” Chorus: A cat symphony on a Greyhound Bus


Two Photographers Named Cornell

DRUNK DRIVER—OR NOT? Passing a Sobriety Test





  1. Hey Carolyn, let’s see some pictures of you as a kid! With all the photos you have, I still don’t recall seeing many of you under the age of 10.

    Comment by Lois — December 10, 2010 @ 5:17 pm | Reply

  2. That’s because, except for a few infant/toddler photos, there are no pictures of me between, say five and fifteen. Carolyn

    Comment by carolyncholland — December 10, 2010 @ 5:56 pm | Reply

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