There Will Be Surfactant

One of the things that's been keeping me really busy lately is the work that I've been doing "on the side" for the packaging department here at our company. The team there is made of three engineers, one of whom a few months ago had a loved one pass away and took some time off to grieve. During that time their workload continued to pile up, so they asked my boss if they could "borrow" me to help them clear out some of the projects they had that were backing up.

What started out as helping them knock out extra paperwork has bloomed into spending almost half my workdays in various labs and cleanrooms running pouch sealing validations, polymer stress testing, and all sorts of science-minded stuff that I would have never, ever guessed that I could be interested in.

Essentially, the engineers plan out a package design, work out all the particulars, negotiate with suppliers, get samples, define a packaging process and choose the equipment to use -- and then they turn to me and say:
"Before we can go live with this, we need to test it -- so can you validate 500 samples of these .. by Friday?"
Eager to prove my worth to the company, I said yes a couple of times and was able to come through with results -- and now it's like all I do anymore.

It's not a bad thing -- it's different tasks all the time, I've become sort of an unofficial part of a team of actually cool people, and there has been talk of perhaps bringing me on as an official member somewhere in the future -- which could not only mean better money, but actual upward mobility (which my current gig doesn't really provide).

At the same time, getting to actually step away from the cubicle and get your hands (literally) dirty with the things this company is actually doing has put me a lot more in touch with what some of the documentation work I do actually relates to -- which was always sort of a problem before.
Or to put it another way, even though my job is to write manuals
for the things we make -- I don't really know what half of it does.
The bad part of all this is that despite my newfound sense of work-nerd enthusiasm towards all these new responsibilities, the fact remains that there's a long list of reasons that my career path never really involved words like "scientist" or "engineer."

Lets put aside my laughably bad math skills for a second and focus instead on my utter lack of experience when it comes to working in a professional laboratory setting. I mean, I do my best -- but it's not the kind of thing I've ever really been good at, even at school.
True story, I once bought a science fair project off another student.
She was in physics, I was taking chemistry -- but there were no subject matter restrictions, so when I saw her throwing her project out, I ponied up $10 -- retyped the report, and turned it in a week later.
I got a B on it.
But here, working for a federally regulated medical technology company I can't really get away with such shenanigans, so I have to do stuff the right way -- and clearly all of my slacking off and flirting with Melissa Schmidt when I was supposed to be doing lab work has cost me a little bit when it comes to my sense of ..finesse when it comes to doing this part of the job.

Like the other day -- I drop in to the office to see what they need me to do, and I find out that there's good news and bad news. The good news, they tell me is that all the various testing I've been doing on the new polyethlyne bags they wanted to use to deliver one of our intravenous saline solution products has yielded solid results.

Without all my testing, they tell me -- they'd never have known that when packaged in the bags, the chemical composition of the solution slightly changes when it undergoes sterilization, rendering it useless.
They don't know why it happens, they don't know what it turns into -- but there's
no money in selling mystery goo to hospitals, so it's back to the drawing board.
When I ask what the bad news is, they smile and motion towards the 500 bags of solution samples that I've prepared, assembled, tested, and sterilized -- and tell me that they need to be emptied out and disposed of as soon as possible.

So I get a cart and lug the stuff from the offices to the lab in the other building, toss a bunch of them in the sink, take out a safety knife, and start poking holes.
Next thing I know it's Muppet Labs
Suddenly saline is going everywhere, and I'm standing there like an extra in a porn movie, doing everything I can to duck and cover while still trying to figure out which of the stabbed bags was the fountain.
But of course, all of them were.
Apparently one of the issues they found with the bags (that they conveniently forgot to tell me about) was that when you sterilize it, the solution expands. So even though I was now trying to be a lot more careful where and how I was cutting the bags, the problem was still the same. Contents under pressure are gonna get on Dan, and apparently there's not a hell of a lot he can do about it.

So I'm flipping the bags over, turning on the water, trying to cover them up with paper towels, anything I can think of to minimize the spray -- but it's all over my arms, it's getting on my shirt, it's all over the floor, and not for nothing -- but all I can think of is the words "the chemical composition changed slightly" along with the opening sequence in every comic book and 50's horror movie I've ever seen, wondering just how long it's going to be before my mutant powers begin to manifest themselves and show.

Look, up in the sky -- it's a salt shaker, it's a soap dispenser, it's..
Saline Solution Man!
He can increase the size of your breasts while he waxes your car. He smells like Jergens and leaves a snail trail wherever he goes. Watch as he vanquishes evil with his unstoppable "stingy sensation in your eye" attack.

Starring Will Smith as "Dan" -- a single father and non-threatening black man who's world is turned upside down the day he is asked to "empty the bags."
Now all I've got to do is think of a catchphrase -- something snappy, like:
Your reign of evil ends here, know what I'm saline?"
[Listening to:  XTC"That Wave" ]


The Kaiser said…
I was seeing something a lot more disgusting and simple. Basically you would have a syringe for a hand on your left arm and, well, did you ever play Dig-Dug?
Anonymous said…
Stop in the name of the law... or I will have to "a salt" you.
Werdna said…
I'm howling with laughter.


The flash back to high school Chem and Physics was awesome. Thanks.
Satorical said…
What's the matter, contacts dry and itchy? Maybe I should remove your Bausch & limbs!
Anonymous said…
I feel you, man. I had a bad lab job where I had to help fill up dialysis bags with rat tail collagen (acetic acid and rat tail bits blended to a clear, gooey gel). One week we got a bad batch of dialysis bags that would break down when they were autoclaved. I ended up with about a liter of rat tail collagen all over my clothes and sprayed in my hair. And when I showed my boss the scene he mumbled something about wasting. Like I was out to waste precious ACID COVERED RAT MUSCLES so I could have a little fun ruining my clothes and skin. Douchebag. So I killed him.