I was rerouting a plug to a new power strip. For some reason I can’t remember now, I had to remove the plug from the power strip and reset it in another position. My fingers slipped down to the metal prongs of the plug as I pulled it loose and then I felt my fingers tingle and painful zap at the back of my neck that just happened to be touching the metal table I had crawled under to do all of this rerouting. I immediately let go of every thing as I screamed more in fright than in pain. Though hours later I could still feel a slight metallic warmth on the back of my neck and my fingers had a mildly buzzy feel to them.
I can’t remember the last time I accidentally (or on purpose) electrocuted myself. In grad school, I was alone in the lab one day. My research centered around scanning bacteria with different excitation wavelengths and collecting all the emission wavelengths for each of the excitation wavelengths. The idea was that each bacterial species had it’s own auto-fluorescent map, like E.coli’s auto-fluorescent map was unique and different from Salmonella. My research advisor had built this monster of a spectrophotometer for us to take our measurements on and something was always going wrong with it. This particular day, I turned the system on but nothing happened. I started checking all of the cords and plugs. When I got to the power cord for the laser line, the cord fell off from the metal attachment into my hand. I was holding a live wire. I guess I was grounded well enough because I did not get a shock. I stood there for what felt like minutes staring at the sparking electric current coming off the end of the wire and then I shoved it back as hard as I could into the metal attachment. There was a loud ‘POP!’ but then everything worked fine and I went ahead and collected my data.
I never told a soul about that cord. Not even my research advisor, who turned out to be a bit difficult and the only one on my thesis committee to not read my thesis. Later, he would be impossible to track down to discuss revisions. Then he’d tell me that it was the worst thing he’d ever read. I paid for another semester of graduate school to take ‘thesis hours’ so I could re-write my thesis and submit it for graduation. I did a complete re-write of my thesis and sent it to him. Months went by and I never heard back from him. Finally, Chris camped outside of the man’s office for three hours with my thesis and the sign-off papers. When my research advisor was confronted with Chris standing in front of his door, he just took out a pen and signed the papers. To this day, I have no idea if he ever read my thesis. My research advisor dropped dead of a heart attack maybe three years later. By this time, I was in Margaret’s lab and I had gained back some of the confidence my research advisor had stripped from me. When I was approached by his current graduate student to read over a paper that included some of my work to be submitted for publishing, I had no qualms in telling the truth. The paper had been written in the wrong style for journal publication and I told the graduate student that if he wanted it to be publish, he would have to re-write it. The graduate student did not quit disagree with me, but he said that this was how our research advisor had written it and that he wanted to honor his memory by keeping it the way it was.
That paper was never published.
Actually, none of the research that I did in graduate school was ever published. The whole experience ruined me for scientific writing. Margaret would come to me and ask me to write up some methods for whatever current paper she was writing up and I would stare at a blank word document for half the day before typing out three sentences and handing them over to Margaret. She’d send them back and I’d write three more. She’d keep sending things back until I’d completed a full paragraph of methods. I’m sure she must have felt like she was pulling teeth from me.
This is the worst thing I’ve ever read.
Those words have never left me. When ever I have to type up methods or help write an abstract for a paper, those are the words that come to me first before I can write anything down. Some times they would even pop up before I could write anything here. Those words became lead weights on the ends of my fingers and let me believe that I could not write. Not science, not fiction, not anything. Turayis asked me if I was planning on participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I hadn’t really thought about it until she asked and I’m still not sure I have the energy for it. I’m thinking about it. I might write something that is not the best thing you’ve ever read, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing you’ve ever read. It takes time to stop believing in things that just are not true.
Sometimes it just takes some mild electrocution.