WASHINGTON (AFP) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received a standing ovation from her staff and an American football helmet to protect her from Washington's hard knocks as she returned to work after a health scare.
A month to the day since she was last seen on official duties when she flew back from a trip to Europe on Dec 7, Mrs Clinton chaired her regular weekly Monday meeting with her closest staff and advisors.
"It is a great day here in the department... Secretary Clinton is back to work," State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said, adding that the 75 people present at the meeting had given her a standing ovation. Mrs Clinton, 65, who suffered a blood clot to her head after a fall in December "looks fantastic, she seems to be terrific," Ms Nuland said. "She is in the pink, literally. She's wearing a brilliant pink jacket today."
As a joke, the staff presented her with a white football helmet, with "lots of good padding" bearing the State Department seals, and a blue football jersey printed with the words "Clinton" and "112," to signify the number of countries she has visited during her four-year tenure, Ms Nuland said.
Deputy Secretary Tom Nides presented the gift in a big box, handing it over with a warning about life in Washington being "a contact sport," she added.
Mrs Clinton had first succumbed to a virulent stomach virus, but then became dehydrated and fell, suffering a concussion. Doctors say the blood clot found later in a vein behind her right ear most likely resulted from the fall.
But now the top US diplomat, who was hospitalised for three days over the New Year, was keen to "get right back to business," Ms Nuland added.
There are still some outstanding dossiers for Mrs Clinton to deal with before she steps down as secretary of state, with veteran Senator John Kerry already tapped by President Barack Obama to replace her.
Notably, US lawmakers are expecting her to testify on the killings of four Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens, in the Sept 11 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Ms Nuland stressed Mrs Clinton will appear before lawmakers to discuss the findings of an internal review which faulted the State Department for grossly inadequate security, and that she would do so before stepping down.
"Let me just say that she will testify. She will testify while she is still sitting secretary of state," Ms Nuland said.
That would mean Mrs Clinton will testify before Mr Kerry is confirmed by the Senate as the new secretary of state. With the Senate in recess until inauguration day on Jan 21, it could mean she will stay on a few days longer.
Mrs Clinton has been talking to Mr Kerry on a daily basis since she was released from hospital last week, and the latter has also been prepping for his new job by visiting the State Department and reviewing an armful of documents.
"The Congress is not in session, the Senate's not in session, so obviously, a new secretary can't take up duties until there has been a confirmation hearing, until there has been a vote, Ms Nuland said.
"So our expectation is that we will be able to sequence this so that she will be testify as sitting secretary, we will also have a confirmation hearing, and all of this obviously will be preparatory to a transition." It is also unlikely that Mrs Clinton, who has journeyed almost a million miles while in office, will be undertaking any more foreign visits while secretary of state as her doctors have recommended her not to travel for the time being.
It was unclear whether she remained on blood thinners, which doctors have recommended to dissolve the clot that was found in the vein behind her skull and her brain.
Doctors have told AFP that normally in such cases patients have to take the drugs for at least three months, but in Mrs Clinton's case it could be longer as she suffered an earlier clot in her leg in 1998.