The Strangest Things Make Me Happy

Yes, that’s right, this picture (from here) made me laugh silently so hard it hurt. Silently because Cameron finally fell asleep after a rough time of dealing with his determined Mommy’s attitude. I decided it was time once again to get back to being able to put him in bed, kiss and hug him, and let him fall asleep on his own. This meant a half hour of me standing outside is bedroom, going “shhhhhhhhhhhh,” reassuringly every time he begged me to come back into his room.

Anyway.

Today was themed around rats, alive, dead, and in the process of becoming dead. They just kept cropping up.

I read that ScientistMother has rats in her attic.
I saw a rat run under a garbage bin on our walk to the bus this morning.

I’d like to say here that I’m going to write some things that others might find a bit disturbing, though I’ll try to keep it tame. Friends, feel free to comment if you like. Unsolicited nasty spamminess or trolls personally attacking me won’t have their comments approved.

Two people needed to talk to me about the courses they need to take to do experiments on animals. Yes, we do that. We in a loose meaning of the word, one that at this time doesn’t include me. Yet. That might come. Without going into detail and totally freaking out the non-science-geeks who read here, I’ll just say that in reading over the course descriptions and materials I’m quite impressed with how thoroughly students are trained, and the depth of the considerations that must be addressed in terms of care of the animals. There are restrictions I had not known about, and that the animal rights people seem to want everyone to believe aren’t in place.

That said, I was reminded that while there are serious restrictions in place … they aren’t always followed to the letter. Sometimes things happen. I’m hesitant to write about what happened a few months before I arrived – I wasn’t there, I don’t know, all I know is what I read in formal reprimand letters with careful wording (which I probably shouldn’t have seen, but inherited along with all other files). I have to assume, knowing the person involved, that most of the coursework was not understood due to severe language issues (for all but the simplest of conversations with me he requires a translator), and he’s from a place that probably doesn’t have the standards this country has concerning animal research ethics, possibly just made a mistake. Basically, post surgery, at least one rat had zero pain control measures taken. No painkillers. The reaction of the university however impressed me. There was, apparently, a halt to all animal work in the centre. All protocols had to be reviewed and re-approved. Training measures at the centre were reviewed. At this time, that particular researcher is not supposed to be doing unsupervised work. And yet … he is. People just overlook it. I know, I know, it’s just a matter of paperwork at this point, he’s had it made CLEAR to him how he messed up, he has to get paid whether he does his research or not and if the rats are now properly treated where’s the problem? But … it’s the principle of the thing. This makes me uncomfortable.

I’m the person at the centre that gets called, apparently, when there’s a problem with the animals. I wasn’t aware of this until today, when one of the people in charge of the animal care facility called me first thing in the morning. One of the rats that had surgery yesterday wasn’t doing so well. I didn’t ask what that meant. He was calling to ask me to locate one of the people involved as quickly as possible to come and respond appropriately. This I found reassuring – not that the rat wasn’t doing well, but that there was considerable urgency made clear to me in this matter, that the animals are checked, that the rat’s well-being was being looked after.

I was standing at the liquid nitrogen tank with the guy who comes to fill it, just checking in with him. Fascinated, I watched the mist welling up out of the tank (big enough that I could probably fit in it), and cascading, curling, down to the ground. Over two rat cages. Uh … lemme just move those, K? One was empty (I didn’t ask), and the rat in the other seemed fine. I found the woman who was working with it (them?), W, to let her know that I’d moved the cages, and where to. I have a whole lot of respect for W, by the way. She’s one of the best people in the lab. Steeling myself, I decided, what the heck. “So, yeah, is that a male or a female? Yeah? What’s she … uh … had … uh … done to her?” W laughed. “Pregnant,” she explained. “But I’m going to take her babies. A little sad, I guess.” Now, given that babies of pet rodents often meet pretty miserable ends, I don’t have an issue with either this or W’s careless shrug. For anyone still reading who doesn’t ‘get’ what take means … those baby rats have a life expectancy measured in minutes or hours. Maybe, just maybe, days. (editing months later … actually, the babies are never born. The mother rat’s life expectancy was minutes at that point, as an injection was being readied for her)

Another comment W made was that the new girl, an undergrad co-op student, cried when W gave a rat an injection. I paused a moment, then asked, “You mean, an injection that killed the rat?” I’m still new to this. She nodded, matter-of-factly. I warned her that the first time I see this, I too will probably cry. W looked thoughtful, and nodded. She explained that she does this twice a week, and doesn’t think anything of it, but that the student’s tears made her feel bad, she was a killer in someone else’s eyes.

Lastly, I had another discussion about animal work training – this time with one of the lab managers. A very cool guy, and he’s new too, so we’re both stumbling through all of this together. Turns out that there’s a good chance I’m going to have to do some more cat herding. Seems everyone in the lab is supposed to take the basic intro animal care course, whether or not they work with live animals. That means at the very least five lab members. Whee.

So, why did I laugh at seeing a knitted dissected rat? It was funny on so many levels. Yet another rat in my rat themed day. Funny that I logged into WordPress and on their ‘home’ page, that’s one of the images from featured blogs. Funny to see a light and fluffy version of a rather gruesome aspect of biomedical research. And it was just … funny. Here’s hoping that’s the end of the rats today.

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3 responses to “The Strangest Things Make Me Happy

  1. Pingback: The Work-Week is Done « One in 36 Million·

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