The blood of strangers gave me strength
I'm talking about my brand-new hip, which was swapped in last Tuesday. As a friend of mine said, there's a new joint in this joint -- and new joint and hobbling owner are slowly recovering. But the surgery has changed more than just my hip; it has also opened my eyes -- and my heart -- to the issue of blood donations, which I'll get to in a minute.
But by this summer, the reprieve was over. My level of pain, buttressed by a new MRI, showed that the hip was now beyond repair. Every time I would see a staircase, my heart would sink. Cut to last month, when I found myself in Rome for the launch of HuffPost Italia. I was on my way to an event with David Thorne, the U.S. ambassador to Italy. We got out of his car, and beyond the bank of photographers, staring me in the face, was one of those long, uneven and seemingly endless Roman steps. To my eyes (and hip!), it looked less like a beautiful Italian postcard image and more like Mount Everest. A week later, back in New York, I was moderating a panel for the White Ribbon Alliance. At Urban Zen, where the event was held, I was stopped in my tracks when I saw that leading up to the stage were three steps -- not much, but they had no railing! I made it to the stage, but knew that I could no longer put off the inevitable.
So that's how I found myself at the Hospital for Special Surgery, in a pre-op room with a beautiful view of the pre-dawn East River, feeling a lot of gratitude for modern technology. I'm a big believer in integrative medicine and the health benefits of things like acupuncture, homeopathy, herbs, meditation and yoga. And all of these no doubt helped me tremendously in those five years leading up to the operation. But this was the moment to thank the gods for Western medicine and modern surgery.
The first day after surgery, I was elated just to have gotten through it. That night was the second presidential debate, which I was happy to be absorbed in. It probably helped that I hadn't tried to get out of bed yet, and that along with the debate I was also absorbing lots of post-op painkillers. (I consider myself very lucky I didn't "buzz tweet" anything I shouldn't have!)
Then came the second-day crash. My hemoglobin count had fallen to dangerously low levels. So, they gave me a blood transfusion. An average adult human body contains 10 pints of blood and I got two new pints -- not a small amount. As I lay there, through the six-hour transfusion, I had a lot of time to reflect on what was happening. It's a very humbling experience having someone else's generosity literally being pumped into your veins. The donors will never know who they helped. It was not something they did for themselves, or even their family or friends. It's an act of pure empathy and generosity.
On both the Red Cross and the America Blood Centers websites -- on which I spent a lot of time while lying in bed -- that rewarding feeling that only service to others can bring is brought to life in the many personal "donor stories" about why people give.
Brian Boyle is an Ironman triathlete who in 2004 was in a life-threatening car accident. He lost 60 percent of his blood and required 36 transfusions during the multiple surgeries that followed. He now runs with the American Red Cross logo when he races to honor those donors who helped save his life. "During a race when I feel my heart racing and my blood pumping, these were once signs that I was dying," he writes, "now these are signs that I am living, and thanks to the Red Cross, living is something I don't take for granted."
"It's the best feeling in the world to know that there could be a kid out there with your blood inside of her because she needed it," writes blood-donor Ronni. "And you provided. It's magical."
I'm looking forward to being able to do the same thing soon.
I'm also looking forward to some other things: Hiking, walking without a cane, sitting in the lotus position -- and not looking at every set of stairs like they're Mount Everest.
(Arianna Huffington is president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)