The Power of a Hunch: Don’t Give up on a Disease or a Dream
On October 1, 2021, I read an article in the Washington Post by Carolyn Y. Johnson titled: A Scientific Hunch. Then Silence. Until the World Needed a Lifesaving Vaccine.”
I pulled the article closer and wondered how a hunch (which Webster defines as “a feeling or guess based on intuition rather than known facts) led to the series of breakthroughs responsible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
When I read Dr. Katalin Kariko and Dr. Drew Weismann had received the Noble Prize in Medicine on Monday, October 2, 2023, I wondered if the prestige bestowed on these brilliant scientists (after years of setbacks) would mean more to people than their winning the Nobel -Prize?
Would the millions who were now protected from a disease that had terrified, sickened, and killed so many be grateful for these scientists who believed RNA was the pathway to finding a vaccine? Then, finding that pathway.
Suddenly, and from out of nowhere, the world had experienced a fear not from an attack by a foreign adversary, economic collapse, or a natural disaster capable of horrific damage and even death. This new fear was insidious, invisible, and deadly. It attacked without warning and could be living not only near us but inside us. Suddenly, we humble humans weren’t afraid only of serial killers or cancer.
We were more afraid of a cough or a drippy nose. Who could rescue us from this disease?
The rescuers were two physicians who had a mutual passion for understanding the unstable molecule Messenger RNA. They met at one of the most unlikely places on the planet for two scientists who would make a life-changing discovery – at a photocopier machine. They met and started talking about their mutual passion, Messenger RNA, and how this unstable molecule could provide a medical breakthrough: a vaccine. On August 20, 2014, the breakthrough happened.
I’m reluctant to compare the hunch I had after reading an article about a celebrity homicide detective who’d just solved a major serial murder case to Dr. Weisman and Dr. Kariko’s hunch about the RNA molecule’s life-saving possibilities. Their hunch incubated for years in the minds and hopes of this brilliant team. They never gave up on a hunch their research would prove RNA was the key to producing a vaccine.
My hunch was to abandon the kid’s tennis book for a true crime story happened in less than a minute. No light went on inside my brain (that I knew of). Nothing happened at the kitchen table to make me believe ditching my tennis book for a true crime saga with a man who could have chosen Joseph Wambaugh or Ann Rule was the right path. I just knew it.
I not only believed I was the only person on the planet who could write St. John’s story. I believed St. John would say yes. No matter what. Our collaboration wasn’t destiny. I pestered him every day for five days until, on the sixth, he said he’d meet me if I never called him again.
We met. We clicked. We started to write. February 9, 2019, I wrote the last words of our book, Jigsaw, and Jane: Thirteen Years of Murder and Mayhem with Badge Number One. My takeaway? Hunches are a person’s private pathway to their passion, abilities, and destiny.