Saturday, June 10, 2006

the dream

recently I’ve been having some second thoughts. recently I’ve been missing the science. I had an interesting talk with “the pretend boyfriend who I’m sure I’ll ditch anyday now and who will not be discussed in this blog” about athletes choosing high protein diets how carbo loading the night before is no longer a favored strategy because apparently the body isn’t so good at storing glycogen as we thought… blah blah.

and it sounded vaguely all bunck to me. and I wanted to refute it with some solid information but as my mind was still caught up in circles with the kids lessons I’d been teaching all day (She’s a doctor! He’s a baker! // walk, walk, walk, jump jump) I couldn’t extract all those lectures in metabolism and how we actually break down sugar and protien vs. all the crap pop science about it and I grew more and more frustrated as my answers were reduced to, “oh really??” “huh”

and I realized how much I missed learning science. as much as I often hated it, I still liked pushing the electrons around and thinking about these big puzzles. I wondered what mr. rat-tail prof. Steven’s would have to say about it all.

and then I had a dream.

I was handling a tube of radioactivity that looked a lot like the reticulum lysate (exploded rabbit blood) that we use in radioactive experiments in the Darimont lab. It’s bright red and very viscous. it was sorta for an experiment and had some element of a party trick to it. I’m carrying a whole 1.5mL eppi tube of this red stuff. usually you only thaw 50ul at a time because this stuff is so expensive. I’m now carrying 300 times that much which could be easily worth 10 grand. maybe $30,000 even. I am very aware how expensive and dangerous this little tube is, in my dream.

in real life, when we thaw the radioactive lysate you have to be really careful because there is a small chance that some of the liquid nitrogen got caught under the cap and this can cause the tube to pop open and spray little amounts of radioactive rabbit blood everywhere.

sure enough, in my dream the cap pops open and a little drop falls on my UN-GLOVED hand. If this type of radioactivity (Methionine coupled with S35) gets into your body it is incorporated into your proteins and cells and will do damage for it’s halflife of about 30 days. If you wear gloves it isn’t dangerous. but in my dream this drop of red has fallen right on my BARE skin. it doesn’t hurt or melt or anything like in the movies. I just know that it is very very bad.

for me, working with radioactivity is a little like being in the middle of a big argument, I hit a level of calm that will get me through till its over. the panic can be delayed. I’ve controlled my breathing; it is measured and careful. I do not panic or flinch. I keep walking holding this precious expensive tube in hand. the rest of the lab is depending on me.

I am, at the same time, freaking the F* out and dead dead calm. I am aware that I have messed up the experiment. I’m not moving fast enough, this tube need to get back on ice before it is ruined. with the top open it is being contaminated with RNAses. My inadvertent carelessness is ruining this tube that the lab is depended on doing their experiments with. I am very aware of Bea’s disapproving voice in my ear. I feel I failed her as her protégé. this is an expensive expensive mistake. this is worth more than my year’s salary.

the tube of lysate is now an open beaker of bright red dangerous liquid. a piece of paper falls from the ceiling and lands half in the beaker and half resting on my other hand. the radioactivity quickly wicks up the paper. now both of my hands are covered in radioactivity. I continue to move quickly and carefully. I do not let myself succumb to the panic that is slowly gripping me.

and then the phone rings and I wake up.

I get my bearings and try to bring myself back into this reality. The feeling of panic does not leave me quickly as replay the dream in my head. and while it was indeed, a horrible dream, it was a good reminder of many of the things I don’t miss about being in a lab.

it’s a lot of pressure to work with really expensive/dangerous things.
I don’t miss spending the night chasing after that one tiny spot that was just slightly contaminated. especially when it was in the 4C room. (and for the record, not while I worked in the lab things never got contaminated to an actual dangerous level. just to a level that required hours and hours of cleaning…)
I don’t miss the pressure.
I really really don’t miss all that pressure.

(and still no word about the preschool job.)

1 comment:

Dave said...

My former labmate quit grad school because she never learned to deal with the pressure. Thankfully we don't deal with any radioactive materials, but each room in the lab contains an almost staggering amount of money in lasers and other delicate optics as well as tons of high vacuum equipment. My labmate told me she had dreams about watching the pressure gauge for the cleanest, highest vacuum chamber (about 10^-11 torr, it gets vented as rarely as possible) steadily rising, and nothing she tries to do can stop it.

I've just started getting one where I'm tweaking a laser and every crystal in the system simultaneously explodes. It's all over in a microsecond, replacements will kill the budget, and everything will have an eight-week lead time. The horror is looking down and knowing that I'll need to see my advisor every day for two months while I can do nothing but wait.