ruthie blum 88.
(photo credit: )
When I first heard that a family friend in America had undergone a heart transplant, I remember emitting the kind of gasp I imagined would be appropriate for the receipt of such tidings.
"Wow," I said. "And it took?"
At the time, that was the extent of the knowledge I had on the subject of organ transplantation, as it was limited to the attention I paid to it. Which was basically none. Unless you count cocktail-party exchanges involving the circulation of factoids gleaned from the morning papers or evening news. Small-talk disguised as meaningful conversation.
Made-for-TV movies were also a source of information. Tear-jerker dramas about organ recipients having initially eerie, eventually emotional, ESP with their dead donors - and subsequently developing life-long bonds with the donors' surviving loved-ones.
Or about a long-lost relative with a rare blood type arriving in the nick of time to save the life of a child desperately in need of bone marrow. Or a lung.
It never occurred to me to write down the contact information listed with the final credits of such films, aimed at viewers interested in becoming organ donors.
Nor, even, did it occur to me to enter an international or local pool of organ donors after seeing first-hand the second chance my friend had been given along with his new heart. A man who had been at death's door. One who was now facing a window of opportunity, which he grabbed with gusto.
The many pills he had to swallow to prevent his body from rejecting the heart that had once belonged to somebody else, he said, were neither bitter nor a burden. They were a necessity, not a nuisance. And well worth the effort and the energy - things he now possessed. Thanks to some stranger who passed on, leaving behind a living, breathing - beating - legacy.
If witnessing this had any effect whatsoever on my ability to internalize its significance, it was to alert me to the possibility that one of my own family members might someday require a relevant "piece" of me. In other words, rather than causing me to want to "sign on," my friend's transplant convinced me to refrain from doing so.
The logic went something like this: If, while I'm alive, I give an organ to anybody other than my children, siblings, nephews and nieces or parents, I won't be able to do so in the event that any of the above end up needing one.
If, on the other hand, I agree to sign a card that allows my organs to be harvested when I die, I will have no control over their placement. That brain-death means having no control over anything anymore didn't put a dent in my diagnosis.
To add a flavor of faith to my steadfast self-persuasion, I reminded myself that Jews don't go in for bodily mutilation. Other than piercing and tattoos, that is. Or breast implants.
So, basically, I was covered on all fronts, from the rational to the religious. What a relief to be exempt from having to learn a thing or two that might change my perspective. Or, heaven forbid, my mind.
Just the kind of vegetative state I was glad to sink into.
GOD, APPARENTLY, had other plans for my brain, bless Him.
A number of events coincided over the past few months which shook me out of my coma. The first was a kidney transplant that saved the life of an acquaintance of mine, Judith Nusbaum.
The second was a chance encounter with an old buddy, Robby Berman, whom I hadn't seen in some years, due to his having been abroad. Robby is the director of the Halachic Organ Donor Society.
The third was the sudden renal failure of a young boy, the son of one of my closest friends. All he needs is a functioning kidney to release him from the reins of dialysis, and return him to the routine of growing up. A routine in which kidneys are beans and getting one's heart broken means falling in love, not being placed on a waiting list. A list that is heavy on the demand side and frighteningly light in supply.
But, of course, with people like me out there, it's no wonder the supply is so short, as I discovered this week during a seminar at the Israel Center in Jerusalem. Organized by Judith and attended by organ donors, recipients and others like myself - who came out of curiosity, a nagging conscience or a combination of the two - "Save a Life, Save a World" was an eye-opener, to say the least.
Each speaker - including Judith and Robby - presented a different aspect of the subject, leaving little room for doubt, let alone dilemma, about donating your organs. Certainly after death. Especially if you're Jewish.
ENLIGHTENMENT IS painful, because it makes you realize how resistant you are to it. It also makes you wonder what other areas of absolute assertion you're still clinging to for dear life. As though shedding them will kill you. In fact, the opposite is the case. In this case in particular.
Today, I signed an organ donor card, and appeal to you to do the same. Anybody worried about it can rest assured: It makes for even better cocktail-party chit-chat.
For in-depth information, visit the Web sites of Israel's National Transplant Center (www.health.gov.il/transplant) and the Halachic Organ Donor Society (www.hods.org), or e-mail Judith Nusbaum (firstname.lastname@example.org)