“Take this as an unusual birthday present” … were the words the Uber driver said to me as I nearly fainted in a coffee shop, alone in London while looking for the hospital.

My 21st birthday. The day I’ve been waiting for since I first entered college. The day my age finally came in handy, and I officially became an adult who could legally drink started with me smashing my head into the side of my bed frame, with blood rushing down all over my face.

This is not the ideal way to start any day, especially not your 21st birthday. I was in shock and panicked not knowing what to do, and what step to take next. And as someone who has a low tolerance for pain and the sight of blood, I kept passing out.

Luckily, I had one of my flatmates to help clean me up and try to direct me on where to go. But once I was sitting in that coffee shop, lost, with Uber constantly canceling my ride to the nearest hospital, I would never forget the fear I felt in that moment.

Once I arrived at St. Thomas Hospital in London, I could see the line wrapped around the building, and the feeling of panic started to intensify.

With tears rushing down my face, the lady behind me grabbed a wheelchair and began to push me as she heard me calling my mom saying how lightheaded I felt. She looked at me and said … “Don’t worry I will take care of you … I’m here for you.”

At that moment, my attitude went through a complete transformation. This woman had no idea who I was. She had no idea where I was from and what my situation was. In fact, she was in a great deal of pain herself, as she was waiting to be seen by a doctor as well. There was some type of comfort in this woman’s selflessness, which immediately made me realize everything was going to be way more than okay, and I was right where I needed to be.

My initial frustration and anger about spending my 21st birthday in the emergency room, alone and in pain, gave way to a realization. In that crowded ER, not a single person wanted to be there. Each individual was battling their own pain and discomfort, making the hospital the last place they wanted to be.

As time passed, I encountered many more kind-hearted individuals from the United Kingdom who made me feel a lot more comfortable. From getting brain scans to tests on my heart, I never felt alone. Every time I was brought to a new room, and passed my new friends in the waiting room I would hear their cheerful, uplifting remarks.

“There goes the beautiful birthday girl … you got this!”

These simple yet incredibly kind words filled me with joy. As blood continued to flow from my face, my insecurities faded away, replaced by the comforting presence of these compassionate strangers.

My time in the ER made me realize that it’s a place where people’s true colors shine, especially when each individual is fighting their own individual battle. I discovered the abundance of beauty and love in the way these individuals treated me when I needed it the most.

When I first arrived in London, my mind was filled with thoughts of all the exciting events and breathtaking sights I planned to explore. However, my unexpected visit to the ER has unveiled the most remarkable gift of all: the opportunity to truly experience the kindness and compassion of its people, making me feel incredibly special.

Although this was not the most ideal 21st birthday, I would not change a single thing from that day. I was able to experience British hospitality and witness the extraordinary kindness that emerges in times of suffering, even if you are not from the UK.

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