Happy accidents

As our baby grows ever larger and her birth rapidly nears, I find myself thinking toward her future. Recently I realized that one day, perhaps in 10 or 12 years, our little daughter will want to know whether she was the result of planning or an “accident.” The answer for a lot of children is obvious, but not for little Pele. While we certainly wanted a child, we were operating on the assumption that I would need fertility treatments in order to bear one. Thus, her conception was a complete surprise to all, especially me. I wouldn’t say she was unplanned. We just planned on having her a little later.

But some of the best things in life have been results of plans that turned out a little differently than their creators expected.

A researcher at a London hospital was working on staph cultures in 1928 when he noticed some mold had contaminated one of the cultures. On further examination, he noticed that the mold was very effectively killing off the bacteria. The mold that contaminated his slides was penicillin.

In 1958, Dr. William Greatbatch was working on a way to record the sound of a heartbeat when he inadvertently used the wrong transistor. Instead of recording a heartbeat, the device he was working on emitted a pulse that mimicked the rhythm of the human heart. Thus was the implantable cardiac pacemaker born.

And, much to the delight of Bob Dole, researchers studying the effects of a medication called sildenafil, which was intended to treat pulmonary hypertension, noticed a curious side effect. That drug never made it big as a heart treatment, but has enjoyed immense success as the impotence pill Viagra.

We’re all familiar with the story of Columbus, who traveled across the Atlantic in hopes of making it to the Far East, but instead stumbled upon the Western Hemisphere.

Discoveries such as these can’t well be called accidents — they’re more like fortuitous changes of plan.

I had planned to finish taking my med school prerequisites. We had planned to get married. We had also planned to go to a fertility specialist. But, plans aside, we are incredibly lucky that our daughter decided to enter our lives when she did. I couldn’t imagine discovering my reproductive system was OK in a more delightful way.

When our daughter is old enough to ask whether she was planned or an accident, I will tell her about the world-altering inventions and discoveries that were accomplished during the pursuit of something different entirely, and how the best-laid plans were adapted to accommodate the even-better unexpected results.

Just as the rest of the world has known boundless benefits thanks to penicillin and the internal pacemaker, so Chris and I have already reaped boundless rewards from the unintentional invention of our little girl.

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