Silence. Stillness. As I lay on my side, feet curled into my chest, the only sounds I could hear were my rhythmic breathing, my steady heart beat, and a high-pitched beep every two seconds. My sheets were warm and snug. Out the window, giant snowflakes fell to the barren ground outside and the sun’s rays streaked through a break in the clouds as if the earth was catching a glimpse of heaven. I felt safe, warm, and full of peace in my cozy little hospital room. I drifted into a deep sleep.
I startled awake in a sweat, almost screaming. Pain raced through my abdomen like a crazed lion, tearing at every nerve ending within its grasp. I needed help from someone. Anyone. I reached out to God. “God, please make it stop. Please,” I remember begging. But the pain continued. As I lay there, fighting the urge to push the orange nurse call button, I realized that my faith was being tested. I kept calling for God. After a few minutes, I gave in and pushed the orange button. The nurse fluttered into the room and attached another bag of morphine to the plastic tube which disappeared underneath the skin on my left arm. In a few moments I was relieved from the stabbing pain and my head was sent spinning.
The nurse had helped me. The morphine had helped me. Not God. I felt crushed and angry. “Why would a being, all-powerful, ever-merciful, let me suffer?” And it was not just me. It was the homeless man repeatedly stumbling into the Emergency Department asking for more pain-killers, the middle-aged woman, unhappy with life as an unappreciated housekeeper, the neglected baby in my neighbors’ house repeatedly screaming for hours. “Why would God want this for people whom he loves?” In my morphine induced haze I spent the next few weeks staring at the ceiling, pondering life, pain, and the existence of a God who would allow me to hurt. Would He allow me to die? If He didn’t exist, would my doctors come to the rescue? Would they figure out what was wrong and how to rid me of this pain?
My Mom entered the room with my lead doctor, Matt, trailing her. Mom grinned and told me that the team of doctors suspected they had a diagnosis – Castleman’s Disease. They had run hundreds of tests, biopsies, and scans, yet Matt told us that they couldn’t be certain. He said, “Medicine doesn’t have answers, just hypotheses.” He went on to explain that I was one of less than a dozen children ever diagnosed with multicentric Castleman’s Disease. The condition was rare and there was no definitive treatment. After reading all the other case studies, they proposed a trial of treatment with high dose steroids and chemotherapy.
About a week later, I could walk and was released from the hospital. As we merged onto to I-91 North to go to our house, I felt as if I was leaving my home, not headed to it. In four weeks I had developed an attachment to the Intensive Care Unit. I did not blame God for my health crisis. I questioned my faith in Him, and appreciated my faith in humanity – in the doctor’s who had labored straight through Christmas to reach a diagnosis, in the blue-clad nurses, in the friends with clueless, yet hopeful smiles, and in my family, which had rushed to my side during my time of need. Matt’s words resonated with me, and I realized that our world doesn’t have answers. Facts are simply our spin on how things work, our interpretations of the world. As John Whitehorn writes in Education For Uncertainty, “[Society] has tended to inculcate an expectation of certainty and knowledge and a phobic aversion for and intolerance of uncertainty.” I’ve learned to live with uncertainty—my Castleman’s Disease might relapse and God might exist. Embracing uncertainty allows me freedom to thrive, to ask questions that may or may not have answers, to seek truth, knowing it may not exist, to be creative and forge my way, helping to create a better future.
Neutrinos might win the galactic race, Professor Lander may be the most genius man alive today and the MIT football team might have a winning season. Here at MIT, uncertainty abounds. The key is to embrace it and keep pushing the boundaries. If that gets you going, you’re applying to the right Institute.