Friday, October 28, 2011

Chemistry Stockroom

I have so many memories of my youth that range from childhood into college and beyond. There are so many interesting stories of my life that I would like to write about. I don't think it would be worth a memoir, but for a blog, it just might be the right thing.

One such memory is during the time I was a student at Case Western Reserve University. I had entered the university with dreams about becoming a Ph.D. biochemist, no lie. It all started when I was fourteen years old and a cousin of mine from Australia had hydroencephalus and leukemia at the age of 13 months. The family brought him to the U.S. and they stayed with us. The poor child did not make it and he was so adorable. I was affected deeply by the loss, and began to read as much as I could on leukemia and other related topics.

Upon graduating from high school, I went to Cleveland State University but felt that the classes were not what I was looking for. The following year, I entered CWRU. There, the counselor I spoke to suggested I major in Chemistry rather than in Biology. Big Mistake. This was through the Case Institute curriculum which is primarily science oriented and a very rigorous program. The first year I took five difficult courses, and also worked part-time in the Chemistry stockroom. It was down in the basement and filled with all kinds of inventory, including chemicals. I would fill the orders for graduate students and staff and maintain inventory.

There were several harrowing moments that occurred during my experience there that convinced me not to pursue chemistry. These events will be imprinted in my mind forever. One particular event was when we were called to attend an emergency. I tagged along, not knowing if I was needed, but felt impelled to be there. At the end of the hall, in a locked room, were many barrels that held chemical waste from the chemistry labs in the building. Typically, each barrel held wastes that were compatible with each other and did not react with each other. However, someone had placed the wrong chemical in a waste barrel (mislabeled) and a reaction was occurring before our very eyes - similar to a mushroom explosion. I thought the room was going to explode. I stayed outside, peeking in as they ran a large hose into the room. To my consternation, I learned that the auditorium was just above this room. Fortunately, the head of the department with several others were able to avert a disaster.

The second incident was when a graduate student was measuring mercury into a container, and spilled it. The hood that they were working in was less than a foot from my desk. We had to clean it up but didn't know how. I read up on the technique and called for help. The spill was cleaned up. I don't think I saw that graduate student again.

The third incident was when I was carrying canisters from the mail room into the chemistry stockroom and I read that if they were left at room temperature, they would explode. The date on the canister was at least 2 days old. I was very scared as I properly placed the canister in storage.

The fourth and final incident that definitely sealed the coffin on the word Chemistry was when two bottles of Nitric Acid that I was stocking up, clashed and broke, splashing my legs with the acid. I had to be rushed to the ER for this. Although it didn't hurt much, I had to be placed in a warm bath and ultimately a burn scar was the result of this.

The following year, I switched majors to Biology and I haven't looked back since.

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