Last Saturday we had a distressing accident with one of our baby rabbits. A plank of wood which held down the rain cover over one of our rabbit hutches fell down into the hutch and hit a little rabbit named ‘Oreo’ on the head. It was a severe impact, breaking her front teeth and causing concussion and some sort of injury to her nasal passages making it hard for her to breathe.
We took her to the vet and they gave her oxygen, pain relief, and kept her as comfortable as possible. Then it became a case of waiting to see if she improved or deteriorated. She remained in the vet clinic overnight and we were pleased she survived the night. Unfortunately the blow to her head must have caused major brain trauma and severe injury to her nose because she was still struggling to breathe, was partially paralysed on her right side and seemed to still be in a lot of pain.
Our vet considered her long term chances of survival to be low and the poor little rabbit was distressed so we made the hard but hopefully humane decision to euthanise her to avoid further suffering.
I find the decision to end the life of a pet to be difficult and haunting, the internal debate of whether it was the right choice remains with me for a long time. I’ve had to make that call for two dogs in the last five years and despite it being the rationally obvious decision in both cases I still feel terrible for making that choice for both of them.
I’m well aware that in nature survival is a constant struggle for all animals and their normal state of existence is probably what I would call suffering for a pet, but as Christian I consider this a result of the Fall rather than the original plan for creation (see Isaiah 11:6-9).
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.
Image of burn from: BMJ Case Rep. 2012; 2012: bcr2012007103. Published online 2012 September 11. doi: 10.1136/bcr-2012-007103