Most of the chemicals we work with in my lab are pretty harmless. They fall into the “may cause cancer sometime later in life” variety. And even those are relatively benign. One, Ethidium Bromide, which we use routinely, purportedly was once used as a food dye (I’ve heard it said that it was what made red M&Ms bad for you years ago but I can’t find any data to support this).
However, for one of the experiments I am doing, I have to work with a particularly nasty chemical. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for this particular chemical states, “Fatal if ingested! Fatal if inhaled! Fatal if absorbed through the skin!” Further down on the page it lists an “antidote” and this precaution, “DO NOT USE MORPHINE!” Exciting!
I’m always a little nervous when working with it and actually wear a lab coat (!) as well as gloves and a mask AND I work with it in the fume hood (in theory working in the hood should mean I don’t need the mask, but I’m just being extra cautious). I say cheery things to my labmates like, “I’m going to work with X now, so if I fall down in a seizure, bring the MSDS sheets when you take me over to the hospital–and for God’s sake, don’t let them use morphine!” (Fortunately, the hospital is just across the street.)
So, when I finish working with X and still no seizures or respiratory distress or severe eye burns, I feel pretty good. Woo hoo! Dodged that bullet! Let’s go get some tea to celebrate!
I imagine this is how rock climbers feel when they get to the top of whatever large rock they are climbing and they haven’t fallen to their death on the canyon floor. High five!
I acknowledge this may be an indication of how incredibly and pathetically boring my life is that working with a toxic chemical can make me feel daring and grateful to be alive (I also ride my bike to work without a helmet–the danger, the audacity!). But, you know, you gotta work with what you’ve got.