In order to tell you what it was, I have to indulge in a little personal history. Those of you who've been around this blog for a while probably know that I have given birth to two children, now nine and twelve years old. During my first pregnancy, I had a great deal of pain. The doctors did not know why and didn't really seem concerned. When I was eight months along, it became so severe that I ended up in the hospital on morphine. After a few days and some tests, the doctors decided to do a c-section and just get the baby out. The pain went away immediately and nothing more was said.
Until my second pregnancy. The pain returned, far stronger and sooner than the first time, and reached the intolerable stage when I was only five months along. A c-section wasn't an option that early, so more tests were done, for days and days. Finally, a surgeon told me he thought he saw something on an MRI and wanted to operate to see what it was. A little incision, a scope, no big deal. It was really early in the morning and none of my family was around, so I agreed. But I was terrified that the baby would die if he didn't have a name before we went into surgery. We hadn't chosen one, although there were several on the table. My OB was came by to see me. He had just gotten off a 24 hour shift and stayed to see me through the surgery (God bless him). I told him, "If anything happens to us, tell my husband the baby's name is Nathan." I had a very strong feeling he needed that name. The OB promised he would and they wheeled me away.
A few hours later, I awoke in recovery and immediately knew something was wrong. I felt awful, there were doctors and nurses everywhere, machines were beeping like crazy. I was hemorrhaging internally. The surgeon shouted to take me back into surgery and the entire group wheeled my bed--no time to transfer to a gurney or call orderlies--down the hall and into the elevator. My OB was standing beside me. He is a jolly man and I had never seen him look so grim. I said, "My baby's not going to make it, is he?" And he replied, "We'll have to wait and see." That's the last thing I remember.
I woke up two days later in intensive care, with eight IVs, a ventilator, and an incision running all the way up my abdomen. I was so swollen from all the fluids that had been pumped into me that I couldn't even see my wedding ring on my puffy hand. But I was still pregnant, and the baby's heart was beating. It turned out, as I learned later, that I have a rare and bizarre birth defect. It's called a "malrotated bowel." In short, my intestines never formed correctly and were bound with hundreds of adhesions that made them unable to move out of the way as the baby grew, so that they were being crushed and twisted and completely obstructed. According to conventional wisdom, this is a condition that normally causes severe pain and inability to digest and kills a person in the first few months of life if not corrected. Conventional wisdom is wrong. I never had any indication of trouble until I got pregnant. I have since found several other women online who have had similar experiences. But I digress.
So here's where things get a little weird. You can take this story any way you wish, but I assure you it is the truth. Sometime during this period, either during or after the surgery (I'm not clear on when), I had a really strange dream. I was standing in the operating room, watching my own surgery. There was a man standing beside me. He reminded me of cab driver (don't know why), but I knew he was an angel. [I should add here, I am not a religious person. I don't belong to any church or religion and I don't believe in angels.] There were doctors and nurses all around the patient, but they couldn't see or hear us. The man said, "Doctor, you know your patient is dying." He didn't speak in English, or any language I know, but I understood what he said. The doctor couldn't hear him, of course, and didn't answer. And then he said, "That's okay. That's my job." And he reached out and touched a small tube that was protruding out of the patient's abdomen. It glowed briefly, and then disappeared, and I knew the patient was going to make it.
Then the man moved away from me, out of my line of sight, and I realized there was another patient in the room who was also dying--a child, and no one was paying any attention to it, and I knew he was going to save the child.
For the next several days, I was very sick and didn't think much about the dream. But a week or so later, I had an interesting conversation with my surgeon. He told me that I nearly died on the operating table. I was bleeding out and my baby's heart rate had dropped to a dangerously low level. The neonatologist wanted to do a c-section to try to save the baby, but the surgeon thought that would kill me, so he stepped out into the hall to ask my husband "which one he wanted me to try to save." My husband told them to save me, so they didn't do a c-section and put their efforts into trying to help me. But the surgeon couldn't figure out where the bleeding was coming from and couldn't stop it. All of a sudden, it just...stopped. He said (and I quote), "It was nothing I did." And then the baby's heart rate returned to normal and everything stabilized. He said he had no explanation for any of it.
A few weeks later, when I was back home, I looked up the name Nathan. It means, "gift of god." And he truly is. Months later, I had him with me when I went for a check up with my surgeon, and the man asked me if he was brain damaged. He wouldn't believe my son was fine until he did a neurological exam. He was baffled to find the baby completely normal, despite the oxygen deprivation he suffered and the massive amounts of drugs he was exposed to as a result of my illness. He's now nine years old and perfectly healthy.
I know this is getting really long, and I apologize, but I am telling you for a reason. I'll try to finish up quickly now.
I donate blood regularly, which is why I was at the blood bank today. I started after Nathan was born, even though I'm scared of needles and faint at the sight of blood, because he and I would both have died had it not been for the generosity of the donors whose blood saved our lives during and after my surgery. I felt--still feel--that I owe a debt I can never repay. I can't even say "thank you" to the people who helped save our lives. All I can do is donate blood in the hopes that I can help someone else who needs it.
Today I was sitting in the donation chair and the nurse was checking my forms over. She said, "Oh, you're O negative, that's great!" [O negative is a "universal donor"--people of any blood type can get O negative blood, which makes it critical in situations where there's no time to type a patient's blood.] And they she looked again and told me my blood was especially rare because I am also negative for the antibodies to a certain virus that more than 85% of the population carries. These antibodies can cause illness or death if blood containing them is given to a person with a compromised immune system, such as a newborn baby or a cancer patient.
"We save blood like yours for the weakest patients, " the nurse told me. "Your blood will almost certainly go to the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's Hospital."
A rush of sensation ran through me when I heard that. The rightness of it is undeniable; my son's life was saved by a blood donation before he was even born. Because of him, I donate blood. And my blood may help save the life of someone else's newborn baby. I would be happy to know my blood helped anyone, but to learn that it goes to those most vulnerable of patients is like getting all my birthday presents at once. And it brings me full circle in a way. I finally feel like I've said "thank you" to those people whose blood gave me back my life, and my son.