I was sitting in a chair next to my son wondering if he was going to die. He was sound asleep, so I flipped through my emails on my Apple laptop that was now covered with stickers I had taken from the pediatric cancer nurses station. Superman, Despicable Me, SpongeBob, Cancer Sucks, NY Yankees ... all the edges on the stickers were starting to wear a bit.
“I read your article, ‘Your Kid and My Kid Aren’t Playing in the Pros.’ I loved it and was wondering if you’d write an article for LinkedIn on Ebola.” It was from some guy named Chip Cutter, one of the editors of this thing called LinkedIn (I had to look it up, something like Facebook for business, a friend told me). I had written that article on sports a few months earlier and it had gone crazy: millions of reads. It was my first experience with writing something that went viral. But, at that moment, I couldn’t have given a flying f.ck. I had more on my mind.
I glanced over my son, still asleep. He was 20, but still every bit my baby boy, and the depth of my fear was incalculable. Even though he’d take my hand on more than one occasion and tell me, “I know I’m not going to die, dad, I feel it,” it did little to calm me.
Hair falling out, skin pale and that smell of cancer. It’s hard to explain.
I tried to get comfortable in the chair I had now been sleeping in for more than 40 days. I looked over at the IV pole and I watched the steady drip, drip of blood transfusions and chemo course its way through the line burrowing under his clavicle. Each day just seemed to be creeping into the next and there I sat flipping through old photos of happier times, answering emails, trying to be a bit productive, trying to occupy my mind with something other than just being a father praying for one more day.
But there was something in the way this guy Chip asked in his email, complimentary without sounding like ass kissing. I can’t remember if I called him or emailed him. I explained I was in New York with my son who was critically ill with leukemia and I just did not have it in me to write a story about Ebola. He apologized profusely for bothering me and told me that LinkedIn's editorial operation just happened to be in New York also and he politely asked if he could do anything to help.
“Yeah, donate blood,” I said reflexively.
“I’d be glad to.” And I could immediately tell from his voice he meant it. “I’ll try to bring some friends and family with me,” he said. A few hours later, Chip, who I didn’t know me from Adam or Eve, showed up at the Sloan Kettering blood bank and donated blood to my child, my baby boy.
“I’ll write your article on Ebola,” I told him after.
A few days later, I had somehow penned what became one of the most-read articles ever on our national lack of preparedness for an influenza epidemic. All because Chip Cutter donated blood. Many essays have followed since then, some have been read millions of times — crazy the power of social media.
This month, my son will graduate from Yeshiva University. While he will walk across the stage with his classmates, his heart will also be pumping a bit of the blood of literally hundreds of his friends from around the country and classmates from Yeshiva University who in 2014 and 2015 piled into buses, subways, Ubers and taxis and shuttled into the Sloan Kettering blood bank to give countless units of blood and platelets to him and other cancer patients. My son possesses the pink tags which labelled each unit of blood that was donated specifically by his friends. He holds onto each and every one like they are gold. They are his prized possessions. I know the life cycle of a red blood cell in the human body may only be about a hundred days, but its impact on my son is eternal and my gratitude for saving my child is infinite. I know he feels the same.
Over my 25 years as an ER doctor, I have ordered thousands of units of blood with little if any thought given to the people who donated. I am sorry. I owed you more. Know I think about you now and I regret that there was a time that I, as a health care provider, gave little such thought to how much blood is needed on a daily basis in America and how precious your act of giving was. I’ll honor you by donating this week and regularly in the future.
It’s kind of crazy, but Chip tells me I have become one of the most-read health care opinion essayists in the world. I like to think I’ve made a difference in some people’s lives by talking about things like caring of the elderly, remembering our aging vets, the impact of opiates in America, the proliferation of drugs and alcohol on college campuses, or the simple beauty of wishing someone Merry Christmas. It’s kind of like my thank you, I guess. But if I can get a few to donate blood in the coming weeks, it will be more impactful than anything I could ever hope to write. Think about it perhaps so we, the parents of a critically ill child, can thank you as you help carry our children through graduation.
“Why do you write for LinkedIn? You should write for the New Yorker or the Times or something like that, something ‘better,’” I’m often told by those who seem to be in the literary and journalistic know.
I simply reply, “I write for LinkedIn because Chip Cutter gave blood to my child.”
Is there any “better” reason than that?
Dr. Louis M. Profeta is an emergency physician practicing in Indianapolis. He is one of LinkedIn's Top Voices and the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Patient in Room Nine Says He's God. Feedback at email@example.com is welcomed.
Dr Louis M. Profeta is an emergency physician practicing in Indianapolis. He is one of LinkedIn's Top Voices and the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Patient in Room Nine Says He's God. Dr Louis holds a medical degree from the Indiana University Bloomington.