My mother thought I just had a very bad sore throat.
It was morning, December 19, 1967. I was 3 year old. Dad was at work, Captain Kangaroo was on TV, and I still remember the taste of those orange-flavored chewable aspirin.
But my breathing became high pitched, and I had trouble swallowing my saliva. Mom called the pediatrician, who told her to take me to the emergency room right away.
In the hospital, I stopped breathing and turned blue in the elevator on the way to the operating room.
I had epiglottitis, caused by an infection in my throat. The surgeon rushed in and made an emergency incision in my neck and saved my life.
The salmon-colored diamond-shaped scar on my neck reminds me of that day every time I see myself in the mirror. And what I think is this: What a privilege to be alive. Thank goodness for science, and thank goodness for love, because these are the things that saved me.
And now, forty years later, science and love continue to shape my worldview.
I believe science is my best guide to finding meaning in the universe, and love is my best guide to finding meaning in my life.
If it weren’t for science, our health care would still be based on superstition, rather that truth. Few of our lives have not been made better, or even saved, by modern medical care.
But even beyond practical benefits, science enlarges my understanding of the world and my place in it.
Sometimes I look around and think how beautiful it is that all the complexity, all the organized magnificence at every level, emerged naturally from the laws of nature, like petals opening on a flower. I find this breathtaking! Toward this power from which we spring, whatever it is, I feel in my being a bond.
The world may be made of matter, but it is we who do the mattering. I was surrounded by love that Tuesday morning in 1967 and throughout my childhood. Dad still says that driving to meet us at the hospital that morning was the only time he ever broke the speed limit.
It is now forty years later. Now I am a pediatrician. Now it is me who is part of a medical community that, thanks to science, provides immunizations and pediatric care that make epiglottitis and so many other diseases a thing of the past, preventing countless childhood deaths.
Now it is me who, forty years later, surrounds my family with love. My wife and children are, for me, the essence of meaning itself. They fill my heart and my life with joy.
While science enriches my vision, love—love of my family, love of being alive—gives my life meaning.
That is what I see when I see the scar on my neck.
What a privilege to be alive.
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