So there I was, tapping the last capillary tube on the counter. The last melting point I had to take, after three trials of error (and error and error).
“15 minutes of lab left!”
It was fine. Everything was going fine. My partner and I had split today’s procedure so we could finish on time. I was in charge of taking melting points and she was in charge of TLC plates. Only, when I went back to our fume hood, there was a completely new set of clean TLC plates (NINE IN TOTAL OH LAWD), waiting to be inserted into the chamber.
“What happened?” I asked her.
“Can you – ” she handed me three of them and pointed to the corner of the room. ” – go spot these? Just rinse the spotter with acetone before changing solutions.”
“O-okay,” I said. I pivoted to the fume hood with all the standardized solutions, then pivoted another 180º to face her again. I should have watched the instructional video to prepare better for this. “Wait. What…exactly… do I do?”
“The spotter,” she exhaled, unscrewing the lid of the chamber. “You take the spotter and dip it in each solution.”
“How do I know which solution?”
“What do you mean – it should say – ”
So I did it. (She was right, it was a very simple task).
“We’re almost done right?” I asked when I came back.
“No,” she said. “We had to start all over.”
ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!! 9 TLC RUNS IN 15 MINUTES. THERE’S NO WAY.
I was fuming. Because listen, this whole time I was recording melting points, she was recording numbers on our battered scratch paper. If we had to start over, what the heck was all that stuff she just wrote down? Also, why didn’t she ask me for help? Also, who thought it was a good idea to squeeze this long procedure in one lab period??????
But I couldn’t be mad at her. Like, I literally couldn’t. Because we figured out that the reason we had to start over was due to our spots completely disappearing after each run of the TLC plate. And the spots disappeared because there was something wrong with the solvents we eluted them with.
And guess who made the solvents in the first place?
I repeated “sorry” more times in those last ten minutes than I had in the past week.
We both hustled to get our TLC samples done but by the time we were on our second set, the last remaining group had just finished slipping off their lab coats, waving a relieved “Bye Sheng, good night!” before leaving my lab partner and I alone with the TA. The hum of water filters and industrial ceiling lights, along with the clinking of glassware and rapid footsteps occupied the rest of the empty space in the lab.
“You guys have to clean up now,” Sheng our TA warned.
We weren’t done though!!!!!
“We’re not done though,” I said.
He offered an apologetic look.
“What happens when we don’t finish?”
Another apologetic look. “Just turn in what you have.”
Both my lab partner and I whimpered a defeated “Huhhh…”
Then the people in blue coats walked in. Stockroom workers.
My TA spoke for us. “They’re cleaning up now. They’ll be done soon.”
They nodded before roaming the room, sweeping the floors, checking the cleanliness of each counter. Everything was clean, except our fume hood, which was still littered with flasks and beakers and pipets and so mANY TLC PLATES. That was when my stomach began to hurt and my goggles turned foggy.
It was the same feeling as being with your parents in a mall at 9:58 when you know it closes at 10:00. Or watching the last of your friends get picked up at daycare, knowing your mom isn’t going to come until the sun descends and you’re the last child left. Just that constant dread from being alone, hopelessly wishing you could go home already. The lump in my throat refused to subside.
I couldn’t see what I was doing but my body performed under auto pilot, dumping solutions in the waste bucket. Rinsing with acetone. Rinsing with water. Sticking them back in the drawers. Repeat.
Now, post lab is gonna be a bitch trying to finish because we don’t have anything to go off of. That Thursday night, we didn’t get to finish our experiment. We didn’t get significant results. We didn’t really feel the traditional relief of leaving lab even after we were both on our separate ways walking home.
There’s really no point to this post, but if you’re really trying to look for a sense of deep, insightful clarity, maybe it’s that messing up freaking happens!! A lot!!! And I don’t really know what’s gonna happen to my grade but it is what it is. There are people who have experienced worse and there are people who know how to handle these situations a lot better. I haven’t mastered how to do that yet, but I’ll try to let you know when I get there. This is going to be an ongoing thread because I’m sure this won’t be the only time I screw up in lab (or in any other class). If you have any stressful stories to share about school or anything, please let me know. I would love to read them.
In the meantime, please enjoy this drawing that my roommate made. I kind of feel guilty for wasting a wonderful piece of art for this post.