Near miss

corrosive

I have worked in labs for a long time and it is generally a pretty safe work environment despite what some folks imagine. However, occasionally something happens that has the potential to turn pear-shaped.

Today I was making some 5 molar sodium hydroxide solution, which is corrosive. In fact, 1 molar sodium hydroxide is corrosive, 5 molar is five times stronger and so is very corrosive. It was also hot because the solution heats up as the solid dissolves. Without giving it too much thought, I covered the top of the measuring cylinder I was using and inverted it to mix. Unfortunately the combination of heat and alkaline solution dissolved part of the seal on the lid, resulting in a spurt of liquid bursting out and across my bench. Fortunately it went away from my face and didn’t hit anybody else so was mostly just a mess and some on my hand which was easily washed off.

In hindsight there were a few things I did wrong there: Inverting a measuring cylinder is a quick and dirty way to mix solutions but always has the potential for spills – I was taught better than that but have become slack over the years. It also was luck rather than good planning that caused the splash to go away from my face. I was wearing eye protection but probably should also have had a face shield on. Sodium hydroxide in the eyes is one of the worst accidents that can occur in a lab and the only reliable way to avoid it is to have protection between you and the corrosive liquid.

As with most mishaps I’ve had in labs over the years I was not injured, just got a fright. Whether that means I’m a safe worker or just stupid but lucky I’m not sure! It is good though to be reminded of the need to be careful and aware that something could potentially go wrong at any time.

photo of right hand with deep chemical burns from sodium hydroxide on the palm at base of thumb
What could have happened (Sodium hydroxide dermal burn)

Image of burn from: BMJ Case Rep. 2012; 2012: bcr2012007103. Published online 2012 September 11. doi:  10.1136/bcr-2012-007103

31 July to 6 August 2017

About time for another weekly update.

Early starts at work

As our large (1,500 students) first-year biochemistry course gets into full swing, work has become busier and I’ve been having to start earlier each morning so we get the labs cleaned up and reset ready for classes at 9am. By early I only mean 8am, but that actually entails catching a bus at 7:20am in order to get there on time since Dunedin has such a great public transport system (sarcasm!). In winter this does not feel like fun.

Cold

While the weather has not been particularly bad by Dunedin standards, it has just been mostly overcast, damp and not getting much above about 8°C for most of the week, so I feel like I’ve been living in a refrigerator. The house we are renting is also not well insulated and we are only heating the living area (kitchen/dining area) so it is cold in the hallway, bedrooms and bathroom – not inviting. A further factor is that the firewood we recently got is damp so doesn’t burn well and electric heaters just aren’t enough to warm the place up.

Also, I’m getting older and more sensitive to the cold!

Weekend

From what I can recall the weekend was mostly spent at home. I had my usual Saturday sleep in, tried to clean up the concrete outside but the waterblaster we bought only a few weeks ago refused to work so will need to be returned under warranty. On Sunday we went to church which was good.

Funeral

Unfortunately one of my wife’s uncles passed away last week after a long illness. We took the kids with us to Oamaru for the funeral on Monday and although sad at least it was a celebration of a good man and a life of faith. I was glad to be able to take our children as our view is that it is good for them to learn the full spectrum of what life involves.

Dad in hospital

My father spent a few days in Dunedin hospital this week for surgery he has been waiting on for some time. The surgery itself went well but it did take a few days for him to recover and be able to return home.

Shift work is biblical

The prophets were not receiving texts from God on their iPhones but they still endured boring lunches, feeling tired, squabbling kids and in-laws just as we do

My ‘day job’ entails shift work on a 24 hour, 7-day a week roster. This can be a drag and there have been plenty of times when I’ve resented having to work until midnight or endure the graveyard shift. Working weekends when everyone else seems to have time off, or trying to sleep on a brilliant sunny day is no fun. I can easily slip into feeling sorry for myself, thinking that not working 9 to 5 is abnormal and unnatural.

The reality is that a huge number of people work weekends and ‘non-standard’ hours. Statistics vary, but up to 30% of the workforce in NZ, Australia, Britain, Canada and the USA work at least some hours outside of the ‘usual’ 8 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday work week, with about 15% of workers doing the ‘graveyard shift’ as part of their schedule. In the USA about 28 million people work some non-standard hours, and almost 15 million Americans work the night shift. I’m not alone!

This is not a purely modern phenomenon. During the industrial revolution children laboured in cruel conditions during the night, night work was also common in the early 20th century in mills and factories.

In Biblical times sentries or watchmen were posted to guard cities and warn of impending danger. To ensure these sentries remained alert the night was divided into ‘watches’ and watchmen changed at set times so that fresh sentries replaced those who were becoming tired. Shepherds also remained up through the night watching over their flocks (Luke 2:8). It also seems that occasionally servants were expected to remain on duty during the night ready to serve their masters if they arrived home late (see Mark 13:34–35).

The ancient Jews divided the night into three watches: Sunset (about 6 pm) to 10 pm; a ‘middle watch’ from 10 pm to 2 am; and a ‘morning’ watch from 2 am to sunrise (about 6am). Later, under Roman rule there were four watches: sunset to 9 pm; 9 pm to midnight; midnight to 3am; and 3 am to sunrise (see Smith’s Bible Dictionary).

Even Jesus kept some weird hours at times, going for a stroll across a lake at about 4am, heading off into the hills before daylight, working seven days a week (Matthew 14:25, Mark 1:35, Luke 13:14).

My point is that while we may like to consider ourselves modern (or postmodern, or metamodern, or whatever) with our igadgets and always connected techno lifestyles, the human condition has not changed. Jesus rode a donkey, not a motorbike and the prophets were not receiving texts from God on their iPhones but they still endured boring lunches, feeling tired, squabbling kids and in-laws just as we do. Remember that even Jesus’ parents experienced miscommunication between them as to who was looking after the kids (Luke 2:41-48). If you think a negative Tweet or Facebook update about you is bad, that’s nothing compared to the embarrassment of having the incident recorded in the most widely read book of the next two thousand years!


Scripture references

Lamentations 2:19 Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! (ESV)

Judges 7:19 So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. (ESV)

Exodus 14:24 And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, (ESV)

1 Samuel 11:11 And the next day Saul put the people in three companies. And they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. (ESV)

Song of Solomon 3:3 The watchmen found me as they went about in the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” (3:3 ESV)

Luke 2:8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. (ESV)

Mark 13:34-35 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— (ESV)

Matthew 14:25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. (ESV)

Mark 1:35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (ESV)

Luke 13:14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.”

Missing them

Alone at work in the middle of the night.

My Friday effusion of words in 5 minutes. The theme today is together, something I have both been greatly blessed with and am also missing all in a single week.

Go:

Alone at work in the middle of the night.

I don’t enjoy this. I want to be at home with my wife and three children, together in the same house, sharing our lives.

This separation is the way it has to be during this particular season. There are some benefits but the cost of separation is high. For some, perhaps, not having the family routine we had become so accustomed to would be a trivial thing. I have a good job, an adequate income, this is a great blessing.

Yet the evening routine with it’s ‘jungle hour’ when the kids become hyped-up and unruly, the wrestling of baths and pyjamas and nappies while trying to catch snippets of today’s news and tomorrow’s weather from the telly. Wanting to collapse with a cup of tea, just my lovely wife and I, but needing to do the bedtime routine first. The dishes to wash, toys to pick up yet again, stories to read for the hundredth time (does he ever tire of Thomas the Tank Engine?).

I miss these things, the mess of being a family together.

Stop


God-given ability to work

A sick man at home, laying down with his cat and tissue paper.I am currently at home with the ‘flu.

Fortunately I get a certain amount of paid sick leave so can take occasional days off work and still be paid. This is a huge blessing, it also has made me aware of the even greater blessing that God has given me on an ongoing basis for over twenty years – the ability to work and earn my keep.

It is easy to think that it is my own strength that enables me to work and earn money, but while I have to do the work, it is God who gives me the power to work (Deuteronomy 8:17–18).

Knowing it is God who gives me the strength to work, and that it is His will for me to work and not burden others, is reassuring when I am feeling unwell and not up to a day’s work. It is certainly possible that I could someday become so unwell as to be unable to work, but this is only a cold and tomorrow I get to go back to work.

While all of us have days when work is a burden, the knowledge that God is blessing me with the ability to do work and through this means to provide for myself and my family makes even those days easier to endure.

…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12 ESV)

In the end it is a blessing to be able to work, a way to serve on multiple levels.

Gifts I have noticed this week:

446) Listening to The Myst of Eden: Hope by David Teems.
447) My 2-year-old son wanting a “cuggle” (cuddle).
448) Weekend holiday with friends.
449) Kids playing at the beach.
450) A hot shower and electric blanket when feverish with chills.
451) Breakfast lovingly prepared by my daughter.


Image of sick man: iStockphoto

Why do you work?

For most of us, to ask why we work amounts to a pretty stupid question because the answer is obvious – we work to get paid so we can buy food, clothes, pay for somewhere to live and pay the bills. Very few have so much money that they don’t need to work.

This rather mundane, pragmatic take on work is also biblical; Paul tells us that if anyone is not prepared to work they should not expect to be fed and we are to do honest work to provide for ourselves and our dependents (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, Ephesians 4:28, and 1 Timothy 5:8). We are also called to put a full effort into the work we do, the admonition of Colossians 3:23-24 indicating that half-hearted work efforts and procrastination have been around for a very long time!

I find this pragmatic view of work in the Bible to be a relief in comparison to the currently popular ideals portrayed by ‘career experts’ pushing ideas such as: “A person’s worth is often measured by the career success or failings“. There is often an assumption that you can find a job which is a perfect (or at least near-perfect) match for your skills, experience and personal motivations. Yet for most of us the whole career experience is more like the verb: move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way in a specified direction (i.e., down the dirt track of our lives in the rickety go-kart of our employability!). Very few people have any real ability to actually plan their career, the rest of us take the best job available at the time we are needing one.

In contrast, the Bible teaches that work is ordained by God (Genesis 2:15) and so is a necessary part of life but it has also been tainted with futility by the fall (Genesis 3:17-19, Romans 8:20), meaning that we will always have bad days on the job when nothing goes as we would wish. Certainly there is a lot of choice available in jobs now, but the ideal job for you (or me) simply does not exist because we are sinful and so will bring sinful attitudes or behaviours to our work, and the work itself is subject to the curse of futility so will frustrate us sooner or later.

Therefore, after a crap day at work when you might wonder if you have missed your life’s calling, relax. If you have put in a day’s work and were paid for it this strongly indicates that you are in fact living up to your calling in Christ so far as work goes.