And so I get back to school, start my senior year, two research projects, grad school applications, GRE preparation, and the like. The year started off good, but that all changed about two months ago. Some of you (especially those at Berkeley) may have heard rumors of some bizarre accident that I was involved in. So here is the truth, unabridged, for those of you who actually want to know... |
Around the second week of school, the society of physics students held a roughly annual welcome back party, and, as tradition dictates, we made our own ice cream with liquid nitrogen (77 K) as a refrigerant and aerator.
Things were going fine for a while. We spilled a little of the nitrogen onto a table, and watched tiny little drops of it dance around. Then someone asked, 'why does it do that?'
That may have been the point of no return. I, as is traditionally my role, answered that the nitrogen evaporates at the surface of the table, which provides a cushion of air for the drop to sit on, and thermally insulates the drop to minimize further evaporation. So you see a drop dance around without boiling away, and without interacting with the table and getting slowed down or smeared out. Then, I continued...
I mentioned that the same principle makes it possible to dip a wet hand into molten lead, or to drink liquid nitrogen without injury.
I had done the latter several years earlier in a cryogenics lab, and remembered the physics behind how it worked. Naturally, people around me were skeptical. 'You can't drink the stuff... it'll freeze your whole body... remember terminator 2?' but I was sure of myself. I had done it before, and I believed in the physics behind it.
So, naturally, I poured myself a glass and took a shot. Simple: Swallow, blow smoke out nose and mouth and impress everyone at the party.
Within about two seconds, I had collapsed to the floor, unable to breathe or feel anything other than intense pain.
Ambulance arrives. Police arrive. Trip to hospital. Admission. Try to explain to ER staff exactly how something like this happens. Then I pass out.
I wake up next morning connected to many machines, some beeping, others performing more important functions like digesting my food and breathing for me.
Turns out that, in accordance with popular belief, you really should not drink the stuff. I eventually learned a few things about liquid nitrogen. Like... while you can safely put it in your mouth, and blow neat smoke patterns, you should never ever ever swallow. First off, the closing of the epiglottis prevents the nitrogen gas from escaping, so it is forced into your body instead. Second, your esophagus naturally constricts around anything inside it, so, even if there is a thin protective gas layer, the esophagus will find a way to make contact with the liquid nitrogen.
Also turns out that my memory was flawed. When I had done it six years ago, I put it into my mouth and didn't swallow. Over time, that fineline between parlor trick and near fatal accident must have blurred.
So... the consequences... my entire upper GI tract, from epiglottis to the bottom of the stomach was badly burned, scarred, and perforated. The gas also expanded quite a bit while inside my body. It filled my chest cavity with several liters of nitrogen gas, which was under enough presuure to collapse a lung. So after what I'm told was a grueling all night surgery, they removed part of my stomach, and had my entire digestive system, top to bottom, running on machine power for a while. I also had a breather for the first day or so, until my lung was restored. There are a few details which are considerably uglier which I will spare you.
So... the recovery... they were impressed with my recuperative skills. I could breathe on my own completely after a few days. I could sit up in bed after a week, and was walking in two. About that time, I began to eat again as well. After four weeks, I was up and about again. Now, something like eight weeks, I'm virtually healed, with the exception of a number of unsightly scars.
But.... the good news is that I am the first documented medical case of a cryogenic ingestion. Read the new england journal of medicine. Three articles are in review now, and will be published soon, I'm told. These days, my little adventure leaves me with bad jokes at physics department meetings, and the occasional blurb in the school paper. 'Make Mikey drink it. Mikey likes it.' I've also picked up the nickname
'Nitro-Mike,' which is somehow supposed to sound cool, because it conjures up images of nitro-glycerin, which implies I'm a bad mother. I don't buy it.
If any of you guys have heard a variation on this story, let me know. I'm always curious to hear how these things sound third and fourth hand. I was on a follow-up visit to the hospital, and I mentioned to one of the nurses that I go to WPI. And he said that he heard about some kid from WPI who broke into a lab in the middle of the night and stole some liquid nitrogen to try and get high. Then, as the story goes, by the time he gets to the hospital, he's in pretty bad shape. His lower jaw has to be amputated, as well as his tongue. He can never eat solid foods again, and also has a 'bag,' if you know what I mean. I didn't have the heart to tell this guy the truth, because the story was so good at that point.
So, that, in a nutshell, is what's happened to me. Nowadays, I'm back to my normal self... school, thesis work, grad apps, playing music, talking on the radio, and suffering over women.
So here I am.