20. Post-donation

I came home and fell asleep, and made it to Shemini Atzeret services the next morning after 12 hours of unconsciousness. I felt quite rested, although my energy level was less than normal and I looked kind of out of it. But happy. I also had an enormous bruise on the inside of my left arm, thanks to two IVs, bandages, and anticoagulant. (Something similar happened years ago when I gave blood.) It hurt to straighten my arm or apply pressure above the elbow, even that of a long-sleeved shirt. It’s much better as of this writing, a week and a half later—today was the first time I woke up without any pain from sleeping on it—but still does hurt and looks (in the words of a friend) like I was the victim of domestic violence. I’m sure it will be better by next week; I haven’t at all minded this physical sign of my donation.

I came home, slept some more, and headed back to the synagogue that evening for Simhat Torah services. I was glad to watch the joy rather than participate; my blood dancing through a big machine the day before was quite enough activity. The following morning I did manage a few circuits around the Torot while being very careful not to bump into anyone. And when I came home that afternoon I was welcomed by a beautiful bouquet of pink and white roses, still open and alive more than a week later,  from the blood center. I’ve made a point every day since to stop and inhale their aroma first thing in the morning, even before coffee, and spend a moment in gratitude for my life and health.

During Hallel on Shemini Atzeret, the cantor sang a beautiful, slow melody I’d never heard before to these lines of Psalm 116:

Be at ease once again, my soul
For the Lord has dealt kindly with you.
He has delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
I kept my faith even when greatly afflicted, even when
in panic I cried out: All mortals are undependable.

God did not deliver me from tears at that moment; I wasn’t sure if they were from joy, awe, or something completely different. I became the transplant recipient, caught between death and life and trying not to panic. I prayed I would prove her wrong about all mortals being undependable, and that she heard the prayers so many friends in my community had sent out.

The next day was Shabbat Bereshit. After talking to a friend about how many people were involved in this one miracle—everyone from the scientist who invented the apheresis machine, to the nurse who connected the collection bags, to the coordinator at the blood center who put thorough the paperwork, and the list goes on and on, hundreds of people trying to save the life of a single stranger—he observed that it was just like the parasha itself, the beginning of a story that repeats as soon as we finish telling it. Constant creation, routine and amazing. I feel like I’ve glimpsed angels in the back room, a new part of God that had been hidden to me. And have received, as another friend put it, the gift of being able to turn my life into someone else’s path.

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