What's your science war story?

Jan 24 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

Everyone has a story from their past scientific exploits that comes up when there is a pissing contest over war stories. That time you got locked in the cold room for several hours? Nasty animal bite? Were you evacuated from a remote location? Maybe it's the time you accidentally inhaled some nasty chemical or blew up the fume hood. Perhaps you were directly responsible for the evacuation of a building or a chemical spill that required state officials to get involved. If there was fire, all the better.

Me? I've spent enough time in the field on my own and other people's projects that I've managed a few stories along the way. Perhaps the one with the best humor/no one seriously hurt ratio was the time I was pinned down by a sea turtle and, for lack of a better term, humped.

But how about you folks? What's your war story?

11 responses so far

  • MCA says:

    Most of my best stories pre-date my science career, in part because I've not gotten to play with as many fun critters in lab and in part because I take extra precautions in lab since any injuries affect more than just me.

    My two best both involve the best study taxon ever, snakes. While in Guam, I was working with the invasive brown tree snakes, a fairly large and mildly venomous species, and a fairly large one (about 6-7 feet long, including tail) grabbed me and wouldn't let go. It was able to work my hand into the back of its mouth, where the fangs are, fairly quickly, and then bit down quite hard for a snake (most snakes have very weak jaw closing pressure). My hand was anchored firmly by the hooked teeth, so the only way to remove it was to have the other folks there slide their credit cards between my flesh and the snake's upper and lower jaws, removing the teeth and letting me get my hand out. Oddly, I actually never suffered any ill effects of the venom (at worst, it would have produced swelling and localized pain).

    The other was back at lab, one of our baby reticulated pythons (about 4 feet long) was having a bad shed and I needed to help it out of its old skin. Knowing full well how nasty and unpredictable they are, once it was out of the bath I grabbed it behind the head, whereupon it responded in kind, wrapping around my hand and squeezing so tight that my engagement ring was driven quite painfully into the adjacent fingers. Of course, I didn't want to let go of the snake's head, but that left me using only one hand to remove a slippery, wet snake's incredibly powerful coils from my hand. Every time I made progress, I'd have to re-position my free hand and the snake would re-wrap my hand. Eventually, it must've gotten tired, and I was able to pull it off and get it back in the cage.

    Of course, outside of lab, I get to play with whatever I want, even if that mean extracting my arm from the coils and mouth of a 12+ foot burmese python...

  • katiesci says:

    Nothing very exciting. I jabbed myself with an 18G needle that once had isoflurane in it (that had since evaporated). I also get bit by mice occasionally.

  • Kevin says:

    Work with alot of pure drug standards. One day, I had atropine and hyoscyamine. I was in the middle of weighing some hyoscyamine on a balance. Let's just say the balance was in the wrong place as the overhead AC unit kicked on and let out a burst of air. My vial of hyos that I had open spilled and flew in to the air. Luckily I didn't inhale anything, but some powder did manage somehow to get into an eye.

    Well, my one eye dilated to the size of my iris. To compensate the other eye's pupil went pinpoint. It was terrible, but looked freakishly amazing. Wish I still had the picture.

    Have stories of surprise maggots, body parts, syringes, exploding postmortem tissue specimens, etc. too.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    We were collecting fish in a small river in Venezuela. We had seined as much as we wanted to. I was on the bank writing up field notes while two of my colleagues walked a gill net out into the river, which was about mid thigh deep. As soon as the gill net had caught a few fish, a school of piranhas came in and had a feeding frenzy. My two colleagues had blue jeans on. They stood very quietly mimicking trees until the frenzy was over. All turned out OK. We got a dozen or so piranhas in the gill net as well as a few other fish. One of the piranhas had been bitten on the head. A piranha head is really hard solid bone, but it was lean cut as with a bone saw.

  • iGrrrl says:

    1) Helping my now husband catch bonnethead sharks for his work involved a long net that would sometimes catch amberjack and other fish. We would try to quickly set them free because they attracted bull sharks, and getting bull sharks out of the net was not fun. It involved getting the anchor line around their tail so you could haul them half on deck of the pontoon boat, and then try to get the net off them without getting bitten or tearing the net. Once when we were doing this, we had a number of inexperienced people on board, and one had come out of the fence around the pontoon boat's deck (and in the way) to take a picture. I picked her up bodily and put her back.

    2) I worked on a parasitic round worm that we collected from hog intestines at a local slaughterhouse. I used to feel up the intestines as they went by, and pull the infected guts onto a tray and dissect out the worms, tossing the females back. Once when grabbing a set of guts, the large intestine burst...

  • Joshua King says:

    I sword-fight unicorns and play scrabble with dragons on a regular basis as part of my field work. These are both the most dangerous things in the world, if you weren't already aware.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    JK, how is NSF not just parking a Brinks truck outside your lab?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    iGrrl gets the award for grossest story so far!

  • iGrrrl says:

    Heh. I never use the phrase "shit storm".

    I used to always win 'grossest lab job' competitions, but then I met someone who had something involving human cadaver heads.

  • anonymous postdoc says:

    My story is nowhere near as awesome but I see than many of these stories involve people getting injured through no, or minimal, fault of their own. Not so with me.

    Finishing up rat intracerebral cannulation one day with my graduate-student self and a trusty undergraduate. Time to remove the blades from the scalpels. In a judgement I cannot explain or defend, I pick up both scalpels in my right hand instead of one at a time as I have done for years previous, and proceed to remove the blade from one. This takes a small effort and once the blade comes free, the blade-removing hand recoils and stabs the remaining attached dirty bloody scalpel blade a half inch into my middle finger - call it a coronal section.

    I lived and so did my finger, and my pride was suitably maimed so that I will never do something that dumb again, hopefully. At least that particular dumb thing.

  • Great stories!

    My own worst ever day in a lab is described here - it falls into the "disgusting, but not actually dangerous" category. My hat is well and truly off to all you intrepid field biologist types!

    My readers contributed their own stories on another thread, which is making me giggle all over again as I re-read it.

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