IJMC Here's Hoping!

                       IJMC - Here's Hoping!

This can kinda be considered a test message. Netcom tells me that the 
problem with the spam and everyone being able to send mail to everyone is 
fixed. However, I believe it about like I believe my mechanics. You say 
it's fixed...I'll believe it's fixed when I see it. So...this is kinda  
atest to see if it's fixed. And if it works...well, grand! And if it 
doesn't...then I'll just have to find Netcom again.                 -dave

I bet that you have never done anything this stupid.  Sort of makes 
that liquid oxygen bar-be-que thing seem like child's play...
Don't try this at home!  Forwarded from a guy at MIT who knows this 
guy at WPI.  Story confirmed by a co-employee who graduated from MIT.
Yeah, really ...

One of my friends is up for a Darwin Award.  (True, he's not dead, but 
you just have to do something likely to kill yourself to win)... and
[Actually, you do have to die, and before you breed, that's the point--pat]
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

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 fine 
line 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 pressure 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 "Niter-Mike," 
which is somehow supposed to sound cool, because it conjures up images of
nitro-glycerin, which implies I'm a bad muthuh.  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 

IJMC January 1998 Archives