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I Don't Believe in Coincidences
Scientists believe that we are all a product of a coincidence on a grand scheme. Millions of years ago, two or three small molecules accidentally bumped into each other in conditions that happened exactly right for them to fuse into the first organic molecule on earth. Over many eons, this molecule has become the progenitor of everything on Earth, including us. Yes, if we let scientists have their way, we’d all be a big cosmic accident. If you have it my way, though, I would say that there are no such things as coincidences. I would say that we all are pieces of a very large chess game that a very significant Someone is planning. I would say that each interaction is special, each encounter is unique, and that everything fits one way or another into a vast interlocking system of causes and effects, all supervised by God himself. We aren’t raindrops falling into a pond at random; we are raindrops positioned so that when we land, we are poised to play a major part in the lives of the people around us.
12 years ago, I contracted a disease called bacterial meningitis. An infection of the folds of the brain, its mortality rate is about 20%, meaning that it kills 1 out of 5 people. The vast majority of its victims are infants or children, and its symptoms are easily recognizable: convulsions, loss of equilibrium (balance), partial and temporary paralysis, and massive vomiting. And so when I was rushed at 6:30 AM in morning of August 14th, 1999 to the emergency room at the St. Paul Medical Center, limbs twitching like a marionette, no sense of up or down, completely unable to move my legs, and dry-heaving, my doctor, a young sprightly Doctor John Jacoby from Johns Hopkins medical school, knew exactly what was up. To his credit, he held nothing back from my parents, telling them the truth, nothing but the truth, and the whole, grim truth. As he spoke, I lay on the bed behind him, sleeping, dead to the world.
The next two weeks were utter hell. The first week was passed in the intensive care unit, the next in the Pathology wing. At any given moment, I had 3 electrodes, 2 IVs, and a blood pressure sensor attached to me. I was on extra oxygen, 4 different antibiotics, and god knows what else. Week 1 passed in a haze of pain, fever, and delirium. Or so Mr. Jacoby told me. I was not in any condition to walk or even speak. For 6 days, I was on the doorstep of death. Then, miraculously, Death decided that he did not want me just yet. Gradually, by degrees, I improved. The fever broke on the 8th day. Paralysis hightailed it out on the 10th. Some semblance of balance returned to the world on the 11th day. I swallowed my first bite of hospital food two day later. Each step was greeted by relief from parents, smiles from doctors, and laughs from a little kid who, by now, just wanted to go home. “Only a little while now”, the nurses told me in a sing-song voice. The little kid pouted and said, “But I want to go home now…”
Day 15. Discharge. Walking, or rather stumbling out the front door of the hospital, had never felt so good. For a 4-year old, staying inside for two weeks is about as terrifying as it gets. As we walked towards our car, Dr. Jacoby stood near the entrance and personally saw us off. As my parents poured good-byes and thanks, Dr. Jacoby walked up to me, kneeled down to my height, ruffled my hair, and said, “Stay safe. Be a good little boy. And someday, maybe you’ll stand where I am, ready to help another little boy continue his dreams.”
That was to be the first memory I had of him, but not the last.
As the sickness died out, it left a burning passion inside me. Dr. Jacoby’s parting words had kindled the flame. I know this because thirteen years after I walked out the door of St. Paul medical center, I was once again back in the hospital. This time, it was not as a patient. This time, I was Ari G. the St. Paul Youth Volunteer, and hopeful junior intern as well, applying to Pathology, Neurology, and Immunology Departments in hope of earning a research opportunity. Meningitis at age 4 had given me a healthy appetite at age 16 for the science of disease and its prevention. The only problem was that no doctor or professor wanted to take a random teenager under his wing, no matter how qualified. Thus, I was reduced to submitting application after application to departments, hoping that someone would want me. After a while, I began to doubt.
My doubt was misplaced. There was someone who would very much welcome me to do research. I just wasn’t looking for him in the right places.
It’s funny sometimes how God engineers these encounters. I was walking quickly to submit yet another research application form to Pathology on my way to my volunteer station. Traveling at breakneck speed, doctors and nurses passed in a blur, no doubt wondering how this crazy teen had gotten loose from the Psychiatric Therapy. I wasn’t paying attention to anything except the forms I had in my hand. Therefore, I was quite surprised when a middle-aged doctor materialized in front of me, carrying a bin. I, in my infinite clumsiness, bowled into him. Papers flew, bins dropped. As I went down, I remember hoping that the bin hadn’t been a sharps container. I helped the doctor up, got his bin, which turned out to be empty, and handed it back to him. I apologized profusely, but remarkably the doctor didn’t look angry. Instead, he had a look of incredulous amazement upon his face. “You… You’re that kid…” he stammered. I was beginning to wonder whether he’d mistaken me for some delinquent on a wanted poster. I stood there awkwardly, as the doctor’s eyes roved over my face, then to my name badge, then back again. Then I noticed something. In blue lettering, the lapel of his white doctors jacket bore his own name, a name that sent me reeling. At last, I understood. Weakly, I said, “Yeah, it me, Dr. Jacoby.”
What was the chance that out of all the doctors that I could have met in a hallway, I would meet the one that had saved my life 12 years ago? What was the chance that, instead of passing him by as just another doctor, I would bump into him and see his name? What was the chance that after 12 years, Dr. Jacoby would still remembered the bubbly little kid in ICU? Such events are too fantastic to be the product of chance. God led me to him, and him to me.
Dr. Jacoby couldn’t believe that I was working at St. Paul. “You’re working HERE?!” he asked in amazement. “Only volunteering,” I said glumly, glancing at my application papers, still strewn across the floor. He followed my gaze, picked up the page, read the first few lines, and understood. “Would you like to work in a lab?” he asked. I nodded vigorously. “Good. I have need of a helper in my lab. You can conduct research with me.” Dr. Jacoby was true to his word. The next day he summoned me to his lab and had me fill in a couple papers. He gave me several more to take to my parents. The day after that, he gave me a new badge with security clearance to his lab. Two weeks later, we had begun on our first research studies.
Since then, I have benefited immensely from Dr. Jacoby’s kind actions. I have used the research I conducted under his wing to enter a number of competitions, of which I have progressed to National and International levels. My grades in science have improved a hundred fold. What is more, he has been a motivational driving force every step of the way, encouraging me to pursue my interests and helping me achieve my aspirations. Today, I am a true believer in the power of God to connect lives together and intertwine them even across years of separation. God saw that I needed a mentor; He found one in the doctor that had remembered me over 12 years. God plans all, knows all, foresees all, and guides our life by a series of collisions and effects that He has carefully constructed for each of us. God works his wonders on earth through coincidences, which are not the product of chance but instead of divine intervention. God truly is everywhere, and where I stand today is clear proof that He has indeed been watching, helping, and above all, loving.