Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day in the life of a ScienceGeek.

4.45am: Alarm goes off. The ITGeek and I discuss who will be the first to get up and hit the shower (and, by default, who gets to lie in bed for another 20 minutes). Conversation consists entirely of statements like 'Oh, I don't mind getting up... What do you want to do?'. Before 5am, I am extremely passive aggressive. In the end, I get up first, but on the condition that I get to lie in bed for an extra 5 minutes first.

5.40am. Leave for work. Walk to station, get on train, try not to fall asleep and drool all over the ITGeek's shoulder. Last time, the people at his work thought he'd been attacked by snails.

7am. Arrive at work. Eat the two sandwiches I'd prepared for breakfast. I'm going to need the energy today.

7.15am. Head upstairs and weigh and prepare 50 mice for transport. Unfortunately, the animal house is out of the normal sized transport boxes, so we have to use the big ones. They're a little too big for the hood I'm weighing the mice in. Usually, mice are about as sleepy as I am at this hour of the morning (it's the equivalent of about 4am after a long night out for them), but there's one or two who have woken up with an urge to try out Base Jumping. Wacky hijinks ensue.

7.50am. Start the cull. My two co-workers are lavaging the lungs and dissecting the organs respectively. I am injecting the mice with the overdose of anaesthetic, weighing the organs and preparing any and all samples. The anaesthetic is delivered by injection, and death, if you're wondering, occurs within minutes. They run around their cage for a minute, then they lie down. This method is a million times better than 'cervical dislocation', a very PC version of 'put your thumb on the back of their head, grab their tail with the other hand, and pull until the neck breaks'. It's a bad day when a mouse is so sick (or the fucking anaesthetic's too unavailable) that you need to do that.

Coworker 1 had a banana for breakfast. Coworker 2, the youngest and least experienced, had a cup of tea. By 10.30am, both coworkers were begging for a break. (As a side note, I also turned around at one point to find co-worker #2 waving a pair of scissors very close to his facemask/ear. He's really not very good with knots tied behind his head, this one. Aside from cutting him out of his mask, I've had to untie him from his own lab coat a dozen times).

11am - Time to start making the lung homogenates. This was a virus study - the mice had been given a respiratory virus 4 days earlier, and we were to determine what effect (if any) the test compounds had upon it. This means, among other things, assaying the amount of virus in the lungs.

Since it's a cell culture model, the work had to be performed in a hood. One day, when I'm bored enough, I'll describe the differences between all the types of hoods in your average lab. Suffice, this one kept the bugs from getting in AND from getting out. In this particular study, this feature was good for more than my desire not to be patient zero in the next animal/human pandemic. But more about that later.

The homogenizer looks a little like Satan's sex toy. There's a hollow metal tube with holes at the bottom. Inside it is another metal tube, with a pair of metal bars at the bottom. The bars are large enough that they just barely fit inside the hollow tube. Turn it on, and the inner tube spins, extremely fast. Stick something squishy in its range, like a lung, and said organ is immediately sucked through the holes at the bottom of the hollow outer tube and liquefied by the rapidly spinning inner tube.

Come to think of it, the homogenizer probably IS Satan's sex toy.

I had to be extra careful with one particular set of lungs. The 'positive control' (ie a treatment that worked) was teratogenic. In layman's terms, it's a baby-killer. In fact, this one is such an effective baby-killer that it'll damage the reproductive cells of both sexes for six weeks after exposure.

Fortunately for us, the amount we were using in the mice translated to an ineffective dose in humans. Using it in a fume hood meant the chances of exposure were completely negligible. But, people get understandably nervous about mutating their kids, so I'm happy to be paranoid in this case. In most workplaces, a person's reproductive matters are their own damn business. Not mine, not today. Today was a day that included several awkward conversations. We might all be rational scientists in the pursuit of knowledge, but that doesn't make it any easier to discuss the potential mutation of a workmate's sperm.

2pm. Lunch. I had about twenty minutes, and I could have eaten some of the snacks I keep in my desk drawer. But the lure of breathing air that didn't smell like the inside of a mouse was too strong. I took a walk to the university's union building, where I then couldn't resist the lure of greasy food, and ended up eating a bag of chips on my way back to the lab. It's days like this that are the reason I got fat.

2.30pm. Back to weighing, spinning, and rescuing coworker #2 from his own lab coat. I spend half an hour preparing cytospots. How do you prepare a cytospot? Take one glass slide. Put it in a metal contraption that looks like the result of a mating between a bulldog clip and a small tray. Add a piece of filter paper with a strategically placed hole, then a special funnel. Load about a fifth of a millilitre of lung lavage fluid into the funnel, and place the whole thing in a special type of centrifuge. Press 'On', and the centrifuge starts spinning. Ever been in a Gravitron? Remember being plastered against the wall? That's the basic principle of making a cytospot. The centrifugal force splats the cells in the lavage fluid against the slide, and, once they've dried out a bit, we stain and cover-slip and count those fucking things until our eyeballs start bleeding.

3pm. Back at the hood, doing the next round of homogenates. Cull Day Drunkenness sets in. Cull days require more distance than usual, an extra barrier so my psyche doesn't know what my hands are doing. But during my lunch break, the barrier goes down a little. Unfortunately, once it drops, it's hard to get it back up.

When I'm working with others, Cull Day Drunkenness is usually a burst of energetic insanity. I talk to the mice a lot more. Another co-worker used to throw ice into the sink, just for the hell of it. There's singing, and very random conversations. One particularly bad day, I tried to convince my colleagues that goats were trying to take over the world. I'm still not entirely sure they aren't.

Unfortunately, today I am alone, and the drunkenness goes in the depression direction, instead of the manic. I'm not trying to homogenise myself or anything, I just drag myself around for an hour, tired to the bone. Coworker #2 gets cranky AND tired to the bone. I tell him it'll get easier. He looks at me like I'd suggested setting yourself on fire is a great use of your weekend.

5.30pm. Finished. Coworker #2 left half an hour ago. Coworker #1 is in the office with me, reading emails. I stare at my computer for a while, then get up and put my coat on.

"See you on Monday."

7pm. Home. I hug the cat. I hug the ITGeek. Head for the shower, where I scrub myself raw with something that smells strongly of flowers. We have take away for dinner, and I fall asleep on the couch sometime around 9pm. Yep, it's an exciting life, all right.

No comments:

Post a Comment