"I got all juked-up at home," said Clinton, looking energized and excited to be back in the spotlight, as he was honored by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases for his post-presidency work fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Clinton's first public appearance since undergoing surgery three weeks ago in New York was slightly ahead of the four- to six-week timetable doctors had said he would need at home.
The 42nd president was given a humanitarian award named after the 39th president and his wife, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. In nominating Clinton for the honor, Carter singled out Clinton's work brokering deals to supply AIDS drugs at lower prices to Third World countries.
Clinton, 58, jokingly reminded the crowd he had worked on Carter's presidential campaign, "before white Southerners knew that God was a Republican."
He also took a swipe at the White House's proposed cut of all Amtrak subsidies, saying, "That's about the same amount as my personal tax cut over the last four years."
Turning serious, Clinton forcefully appealed for rich nations to do more to fight the spread of AIDS.
Clinton said he was grateful the Clinton Foundation has been able to reduce the price of AIDS medicine for some patients to under $140 a person a year. He estimated that more than 100,000 people in the developing world will have benefited from his foundation's work by the end of the year.
"I just knew that unless somebody was committed to helping these countries systemize their approach and get this medicine out there, people were going to keep dying like flies who don't have to die," Clinton said.
Just before the second surgery, Clinton had been on a high-profile tour of southeast Asia, visiting areas devastated by the Dec. 26 killer tsunami with former President George H.W. Bush to raise funds for recovery efforts.
The follow-up procedure was to deal with a rare complication from a heart bypass operation six months earlier.
Surgeons who operated on Clinton at a New York hospital said he had developed a thick rind of scar tissue and fluid buildup which caused compression and the collapse of the lower lobe of the lung, causing shortness of breath.