Friday, December 15, 2017
Opinion

Column: How I saved a man's life

I saved a man's life.

It feels odd to utter that sentence. It sounds like a request for admiration or at the very least congratulation, but really it is an expression of wonderment.

To have saved a life — or part of one; this man was 48 — is to have forestalled grief and loss for others, and to have restored reality to a world, the world as that man will experience it until, I hope after many, many years, death comes for him once again.

In one sense, human lives are little things, and we hear of the loss of them — by suicide bombs, collapsed buildings, flesh-eating bacteria — with an equanimity that increases with distance.

But the death of one person, that is something else. We are, ourselves, one person, not 100 or 1,000. The loss of a single life, with all that life contains, takes on a dimension that we can more easily appreciate. In the same way, I think that to have saved the life of one person seems more real, more textured, more satisfying to me than if I had somehow saved 1,000.

Here is how it came about. When my first child was born at Cedars-Sinai, I gave a pint of blood in advance against its being needed during the delivery. Somehow or other in my euphoria over the arrival of that baby boy — he's 31 now — I must have felt the need to give something back, and I started donating blood regularly. Later, when I had become a familiar face in the donor room, they asked whether I would like to donate platelets.

Platelets are tiny yellow things in your blood that help with clotting. Apparently there is a chronic shortage of them because lots of people need them after accidents and surgeries, they don't keep as long as whole blood and, because the donation process takes about four times as long as giving whole blood — two hours, all told, when you figure in the prep and collecting your Oreos and free movie tickets afterward — fewer people are willing to do it.

Anyway, I started giving platelets every two weeks. That was more than 25 years ago. Then one day the recruiting lady, who often bemoans to me the difficulty of getting people to come in and donate, called to beg me to undergo a more onerous procedure.

This time the product required was white blood cells, the kind that combat infections. They were needed in a hurry for a man who was awaiting stem cell therapy for leukemia. Because his immune system had been suppressed, he had gotten an intractable fungal infection in an eye.

As she explained it, he could not get the stem cells while he had the infection, and if the infection could not be overcome, they would have to remove the eye and a big part of his face. I had a compatible blood type and, more important, I was currently screened and could donate immediately.

It turned out that what was required was three visits to Cedars over three days. The first was to get a shot that would boost my production of white cells. Then there would be two three-hour sessions with a needle in each arm. That's not really so bad, if you don't mind your nose itching. You can't read because your arms are pinioned at your sides, but they have movies. I watched Skyfall twice and the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes 1¼ times.

The patient's wife came to thank me. She was intensely grateful, but I felt like an impostor and that her gratitude was misplaced. To her what I was doing was a very great thing, and I was a very good person; to me it was almost nothing, and I was just me.

She was very religious, and I wondered if I could elevate atheists in her estimation by explaining that I was one, but I decided to keep my mouth shut, especially because I sensed that there wasn't a lot of optimism among the medical people about the likely efficacy of the procedure.

A couple of weeks later I learned that it had worked. The infection was almost gone, and even the blood cancer had temporarily retreated. The nurse who came to tell me had tears in her eyes.

It felt strange — the disproportion between what I had done and what it had meant to other people. Sometimes it can be very difficult to accomplish very little; at other times it is very easy to do something of really incalculable magnitude. I had balanced a world on my fingertip, and found it as light as a balloon. The banality of good!

© 2013 Los Angeles Times

Comments
Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

For once, it would be nice to see Sen. Marco Rubio stand up as the independent leader he aspires to become. For once, the Florida Republican should hold his position rather than bow to pragmatic politics. Rubio can stick with his threat Thursday to v...
Published: 12/14/17

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

Josephine "Joey" Gay should have celebrated her 12th birthday this week. She should have been surrounded by friends and family in a place festooned with purple, her favorite color.Chase Kowalski should have been working toward a Boy Scout merit badge...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17

Another voice: Privacy in the internet age

How much information about you is on your cellphone? Likely the most intimate details of your life: photographs, internet searches, text and email conversations with friends and colleagues. And though you might not know it, your phone is constantly c...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Confronted with documentation of sanctioned brutality and sexual abuse in Florida’s juvenile detention centers, the reaction from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration was defensive and obtuse. So it’s welcome news that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over state’s rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week won’t make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, it’s obvious that Jeff Vinik’s plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17