Sunday, August 30, 2015


WARNING: This blog is only NSFW if you are not in a life-sciencey profession.  Because today's topic is all about sex.

Uh oh, you may think.  Has Cat decided to go the way of sophomorphic humor, riddled with juvenile mentions of genitalia?

Uh, I guess we know what harbor porpoises think about all day.

Of course not. Okay well, maybe a little, since I tend to refer to male reproductive organs with the medically-accepted term "wiener." But the thing is, see, we as animals are (like so many others) totally obsessed with sex.  I don't just mean the act.  I mean everything that relates to it, from benign crushes to well, wherever your imagination takes you.

Here's where my imagination took me.

Sexual reproduction is arguably THE driving force in sexually-reproducing organisms.  Since that's like a whole lot of lifeforms, we're just going to stick with vertebrates because most of them utilize this method.  We humans oft ask the age-old* question: Why Am I Here? The Selfish Gene Hypothesis states that the answer is to get as many genomic copies of ourselves out in the world.  

Fungi are simultaneously among the best sexual reproducers and the worst things to eat.  Ew. 

Those humans with a strong faith in certain religious sects may take offense to the aforementioned statement, but that's not what I'm getting at.  There are many, many "loftier" reasons why we may exist, and an entire slough of spiritual belief systems that can sum up our existence in beautiful, meaningful ways.  What I'm saying is, regardless of your particular faith (or lack thereof), this blog is not commenting on deep aspects of Why We Are Here, nor is its tribute to the biological explanation meant to imply the exclusive answer.

Oh wait, d'uh.  I forgot we already know the meaning of life. 

Okay, with all of that out of the way....

A few days ago, I saw an article in the Washington Post about this new, hilarious hashtag explosion entitled #junkoff.  Basically, it's a bunch of zoological nerds trying to one-up each other in the Twitter cyberverse by posting photos of ridiculous animal genitalia.  Mostly wieners.  Here, check it out.

It's absolutely hilarious.  I mean, why does anyone care about wieners?  Why do we LOL at movies like Superbad because of poor Seth's almost reflexive tendency to draw penises everywhere? Do we subscribe to Cosmopolitan magazine because we just LOVE the recipes in there? Why is sex the ubiquitous topic with teens in every. single. generation?

Because.  Science.

You tell 'em, Jesse.

One myth that humans love to talk about is how we are one of the only animals who has sex "for fun." We graciously include dolphins into this, too.  As if that somehow elevates the status of dolphins to More Conscious because they aren't mindlessly reproducing.

But here's the thing, fellow animal sexual-reproducers: the whole point of this method of reproduction is to feel good.  If it didn't have some reinforcing value, I'm not totally sure it'd be as successful as it is.  Yes, many animals have specific breeding cycles and mate only within that period of time.  Does this mean that during estrous, a female horse isn't thinking about how suddenly, that stallion is looking MIGHTY fine?  Regardless of sexual orientation, why do two individuals decide to come together to have a go at propogation? 

But only when we're in estrous.  

That part is the instinctive side of sexual reproduction for animals, regardless of orientation***.  Plants and fungi that engage in this method just kind of lie there and have their own way of acquiring gametes.  Us animals, we get an urge, we follow that urge, badabing badaboom.  If biological life revolves around making more of us, then it makes complete sense that all we think about is, well, anything related to making more of us.  Even if we don't necessarily WANT more of us (you know, like if you don't want kids, or if it's physically impossible,) that doesn't mean you don't ogle people you find attractive.   

Some social animals (like us humans) engage in sexual activity outside of our normal estrous cycles, yes.  But in order to ensure that it keeps happening, it's gotta feel good to someone. An itch that needs to be scratched, so to say.  It may be pretty one-sided in the case of some animals.  In others, sexual behavior is noted but not necessarily used for reproduction.  And if you ever need example of this, you can stop by my workplace and watch our female ASCOs prove my point.  Or, you could read this BBC article about this very topic.

A little privacy, please?

Many of us know a lot about natural selection, but that is just one mechanism of evolution.  Sexual selection is just as prevalent in the natural world.  Sexual selection is why male genitalia winds up just right for females in many species....and why females develop their own physiological and/or behavioral methods of successful reproduction. It's also why many male birds are obnoxiously gorgeous (and therefore very attractive to predators in an entirely different way).  Or why men of many species act in ways around boom-boom time that just make us go agog.  These are all things that increase the chances of us making little versions of ourselves.  

In fact, our lives would be just so very boring if we a) were not sexually-reproducing animals and/or b) only asexual reproduction existed.  Think about it.  Sex gave us hashtag JUNKOFFS.  We write bajillions of songs about love and sex.  Many of our political, ethical, and religions devote large amounts of money, time, and mental energy on creating culturally-appropriate sexual norms.  We long for the time we meet The Right Person.  We watch The Bachelor, or get excited when someone we know (humans or others) have babies.  


Let's take a look at what our lives would be like if we were asexually-reproducing. 

Salt N Pepa's song "Let's Talk About Sex" would go something like:

Let's talk about asex, baby
Let's talk about me and me
Let's talk about all the cloning
And the budding
That may be

Definitely not as catchy

Our world would look pretty boring.  Even though the idea of having hoards of Cat clones really appeals to my hubris, it's just better there's one of me.  Actually, it could be kind of cool to fragment, like where I'd fall apart into 8 or 9 pieces, all of which turn into me.  But would it hurt?  It kind of freaks me out.  Maybe I'd better not try it.

You think that being a teenager in the throes of puberty (a necessary transition for many sexually-reproducing animals) was embarrassing?  I contend that being an asexual teenager is WORSE.  

Asexual reproduction (mitosis) in donuts.  SOMEONE AMAZING MADE THIS.

What's the worst thing that can happen to you as a teenage boy or girl?  I won't write it here, but you can use your imagination.  Now, keep that image fresh in your mind as I outline a scenario for our asexually-reproducing alternate universe selves:

You're sitting in math class with all of your classmates.  It's a perfectly normal day in which you've completely ignored the teacher and have doodled all over your notebook.  The teacher, who looks oddly a lot like you, calls your name.  You snap out of your teenage daze, your heart racing as you realize that your cover is blown: you have no idea what your teacher has asked and everyone is looking at you.

I've felt like this more than once.

"I don't know" you say, your face flushing deep red.

"You don't know if you can come up to the board to finish this equation?" the teacher retorts. "Because that's what I asked you to do."

"Oh," you say.  You are humiliated, looking this stupid in front of all of your classmates.  You slowly get up out of your chair and walk to the board, knowing there's no way you can possibly answer the question right.  But what choice do you have?  

It can't get any worse, you think to yourself.

But then, as you reach the front of the room with all eyes on you, you feel it.  That tingle on your upper left arm.  Unmistakable.  Unstoppable.

Ohhh god.

Oh no, oh no, oh no, you think.  You grab your arm and look desperately at your teacher, hoping for understanding.  But teacher just stares back at you.  "Go on."

The tingling intensifies.  "I have to go to the bathroom," you say.  Your voice is laced with panic.

"You can go after you find x."

Under your sweaty palm, you feel the undeniable bulge grow.  You clamp down on your arm, desperate to stop what's about to happen.  But it's too powerful, it's too late.  Your hand gives way as a head, identical to yours, buds out of your shoulder.  You defeatedly brace yourself as another copy of you grows out of your body, pinches itself off, then drops to the floor.  It stands up, looks at you, and takes a seat in an empty desk.  


"Oh," the teacher says.  "Well you could've gone to the bathroom to do that."

Mortified, you know that forever more you'll be known as the Kid Who Cloned In Math Class.  Now, aren't you happy you're a sexual reproducer?

Sexual reproduction really has a huge part in who we are as a species.  It doesn't mean we just abandon our moral codes set by our communities and cultures.  You can interpret its importance and how to correctly use it however you want (as long as you're not being a total jerk to someone else.) But all of us (not just the humans and dolphins) should acknowledge that the powerful and special biological aspect of sex does deserve a nod.

Or maybe a hashtag.  

* Age-old is one of those hilarious and oh-so-human phrases that assumes the concepts of ages only began with humans.  I bet our prehistoric friends look down upon us an laugh heartily from their heavenly seats.**

** No, I'm not doing drugs.  BUT I haven't had a donut in like, many hours.

*** There are same-sex couples documented in many other animal species.  None are as fabulous as Nathan Lane and the love of his live, Devlin Elliot (especially because they wrote this amazing children's book about their dogs).


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Animal Training Is Easy; Talking To Other Humans Is Impossible

I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between humans and All Other Animals, lately.

Look at how well I communicate!

If you’ve been following this blog for any substantial length of time, you know my personal opinion on the ever-narrowing fissure between humans and their other animal counterparts.  I don’t need to rehash those opinions here, but I do spend a lot of time thinking about how non-human animals think and experience the world.  

Even though I think a brain is a brain is a brain, I do realize that there are some things that differentiate humans from other species of animals.  And one of those things is how we communicate.  Rather, how we (the people)* respond to miscommunication.

Just don't try to eat 50 eggs.

As animal trainers, our entire world is set firmly on a foundation of interspecies communication, which is like so awesome it makes me smile every time I think about it.  Any good trainer knows that strongly conditioned, predictable guidelines are what make cooperation between the species.  Equally importantly is the relationship between all individuals: the better the rapport, the more easily we understand each other.

So far, everything in the last paragraph can be said for humans.  We learn a language(s), cultural expectations, and use these tools to express ourselves and encourage cooperation between our conspecifics.  Who can argue that the people closest to us are the ones who “get” us, often without minimal language required?  I swear that one of my best friends can access my brain in a totally, uncreepy but definitely hacker-y way.  She’s like my very own Professor X.


And in all animal species, there are misunderstandings.  When that happens, we learn a lot... that is, if we are patient, humble, and willing to learn.  This strengthens our relationships with each other no matter the species.  So far, we’re not really detecting any differences, right?**

Animal trainers are communication experts, with a special, hidden expertise in miscommunication. What happens when there is a misunderstanding between animal and human trainer?  I mean actually in the moment, not all of the training methods we use to re-establish whatever got screwed up.  

Usually it’s like, a dolphin jumps instead of breaches.  A sea lion emits an A-B randomly in the middle of a show.  A penguin incorrectly anticipates a blood draw and decides to take a little of yours instead (oh, penguins).  Most of the time, these misunderstandings are no big deal.  There’s almost no embarrassment, and usually little lasting or serious effects.

No big deal!

But no matter how big or small the communication fail is, animal trainers do a fantastic job of assessing the situation, then applying artfully precise tactics that alleviate confusion, correct the problem and make human and animal happy and confident.  This can happen in mere seconds, or over a longer period of time.  Nonetheless, it’s a delicate but powerful balance of objective observation, application of consistent rules, and relationship that bring us all back to harmony.

Ah, this is where humans differ from animals.  Because comparatively, humans really suck at communication.

If you don’t believe me, just walk into any bookstore and head to the self-help section.  Look at the tomes of information on how to talk to each other.  Comedians create entire sets on stupid things they’ve said or heard.  Think about your own experiences with this ("Wow, when are you due?" "I'm not pregnant.") With all the words we have at our disposal to talk to each other, we humans use them more to create facepalm moments than we do to foster perfectly gelled communication. 

Take luck!

Despite my ability to talk incessantly for hours, all of that practice has not made me a better communicator to my conspecifics.  I have so many examples of this, but one such a time happened to me at work that perfectly illustrates the subject of this blog.

We had a really, really stormy day.  Lightning was striking very close and frequently, which as we all know is ridiculously dangerous if you work outside.  It was a weekend day, and I happened to be the ranking animal training person there because the director and the general manager were off.  Days like that (Running With Scissors Days!) are usually awesome, but when something goes wrong they are a little stressful in a good way.  Growing pains and all that.

That day, some of the animals were acting spooked by the strong winds and loud thunder (we have harbor seals and ASCOs***, need I say more?).  But the animal trainer in me was able to usher all animal subjects through their fear, relying on our communication fundamentals and relationship, without anyone losing their minds.  I felt confident.  I felt like we could handle this insane storm without any critter being too stressed out.

Everything's cool, man!

But then came the time where I had to make a decision about how we’d manage the humans in the storm.  Because of the obvious safety concerns, I decided to delay a show until the weather was better.  Yeah, it meant the animals’ schedule would be different; it also meant that they’d have back-to-back sessions.  But we as a staff felt totally confident in our ability to make the situation fun and exciting for the animals.  Again, it all came down to how comfortable we were with how we communicated with them.

Telling guests that a show was delayed, or that their program had to be rescheduled is usually when my confidence evaporates.  In this case, the few guests who were in the park totally understood and had no interest in being electrocuted (so we all had something in common).  No guest seemed unhappy, but all of them decided to leave for the day and come back later when the weather was nicer.

It was at this point that I escorted one family to our gift shop so they could reschedule their interaction program.  Once completed, they left with smiles on their faces and told us to be careful in the weather.  I waved back at them and wished them well, feeling better than ever in my supervisory role.  I could get the hang of this! I could sail these tricky waters!

Whatever you say, your royal Cuteness.

Then I turned around and this is what I thought I said:

Me: Alright!!  Well, I don’t think there’s anyone in the park right now.  But if anyone comes in while it’s still storming like this, just make sure they know the sea lion show is delayed until the weather lets up.  I’ll let you guys know ASAP as soon as we will be ready to start the show.
Awesome gift shop staff: You got it!

But what happened was my newly-confident brain in the midst of normal, professional growing pain stress completely screwed up my ability to speak what was actually in my head.  I don’t know exactly what I said, but it basically amounted to this:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet

Awesome gift shop staff: Um...okay. You got it!

I went off on my merry way to monitor the storm and make sure everyone was doing well, thinking I’d really nailed this managerial task and covered all my bases.  I updated the Aquarist curator about what was going on, with his approval.  As the storm raged on, we did what we could without sacrificing safety.  We spent a lot of time inside, crammed around a radar screen waiting for the brief oases where we could feed the animals.

My confidence came to a sudden, surprising end when, hours later, the aquarist curator approached me with a pained and confused look on his face.


Curator: Cat, did you know the park was closed?
Me: Um, what?
Yeah.  Did you tell the gift shop to close the park because of severe weather?
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet

My brain exploded.  Had I said that?? Did I say anything that kind of said that?  I adore all the people in the gift shop, and there’s no way they’d ever make that call or blame it on me.  The only explanation was that I’d said something that was interpreted to mean SHUT THOSE DOORS.  And they dutifully did so. 

But oh my goddddd.  I was so embarrassed.  Not only did I clearly miscommunicate, but  I couldn’t even figure out HOW I did that, even though I knew it was my fault.  This is of course on top of the total internal panic that raged within me as I thought about how I’d royally screwed up one of my only opportunities to be the Big Boss while the real bosses were away.

General Manager: So how did Cat do on her own?
Boss: Oh, fine.  Except she closed the entire park down for hours.


Luckily, thanks to the the time of year and the storm, we didn’t have any guests bashing in our doors trying to gain entrance.  We didn’t really lose any revenue, so my miscommunication didn’t have any big consequences other than making me feel about 18 inches tall.  To date, like any good animal trainer, I still attempt to figure out what I did wrong.  But because this was strictly a humans-only scenario, I know I’ll never figure it out.

Even though I can’t wax poetic with a dolphin, it’s still really awesome to think that I have a purer method of communicating with non-human animals than I do people.  But really, it’s all fun no matter what species you’re talking to.  And as long as I choose to converse with other humans, I’ll have to accept my awkwardness...and laugh heartily at it when the time is right. 

Communication is hard.


* This sounds familiar....

** I mean, other than the fact that I still haven’t learned to speak Harbor Seal yet.

*** If you are unfamiliar with this acronym, it is commonly used in the zoo industry and is short for “Absolutely Super Crazy Otters” which zoologists occasionally refer to as Asian-small clawed otters.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Top Ten Reasons To Go To The 2015 IMATA Conference

Need a reason to go to this year's IMATA Conference?  How about ten of 'em?

10. BAHAMAS.  
Where all mammals can appreciate island life!

Need I say anything further?  Okay but seriously, for most of us this means international travel to a tropical paradise.  We trainers are paid heartily in amazing experiences at our job, and maybe less so of the dollar billz.  Hence, any opportunity to travel -especially internationally- is worth taking.

9. See what crazy stuff people are doing at their facilities.  

Like nursing a baby pseudorca back to health, especially in spite of ridiculous detractor pressure.  Good job, Vancouver Aquarium!

Presentations abound, and you're guaranteed to see something that'll make you go "OH EM GEE" more than once.  Not only will trainers amaze you, but the incredible veterinarians in this field.  

8. Or maybe YOU can motivate someone.  

That's tongue-in-cheek for: get yer butt up on stage and inspire us with your experience!

Setting aside the benefit of doing an informal or formal presentation yourself, you never know whose interest you'll pique no matter what the topic.  Yeah, we all get butterflies standing up in front of people, but this is your opportunity to stand proudly beside whatever cool thing you and your facility did.  

7. Get a serious booster shot of inspiration.  

There goes Bill, inspiring us!

For as long as you're at the conference, you're immersed in some feel-good stuff.  Yeah, you'll get motivated by presentations.  But you'll also get some great ideas from that trainer you met while sipping mai tais at the pool, or the veterinarian you ran into at a site visit.

6. Get facetime with your gurus.  

Sometimes they even sign books!

We've all got 'em.  You know, the people who make us go, "I WANT TO BE LIKE THEM!"  Chances are, they'll be at the conference.  That means you can see them in action and actually meet them IRL.

5. Eat.  

Trainers lurv the foods


Is that us having a Peeps eating contest? Um, yes it is.  (I didn't win)

You're in a vacation destination, in a tropical location, and you're a hungry, hungry animal trainer.  You know you want to stuff your face.  And guess what?  You're in good company.  There's no better way to forge new relationships or make new ones than to break bread with them.

4.  Meet new people....  

Well Boromir, you don't know everything, cuz they do at IMATA conferences.

Maybe you're going to actually meet your Facebook contacts! Whaaat!  Or you'll have a great chat with someone you'd have never met, and find out that you've got a lot to offer each other.  No matter who you meet anew, you avoid the normally-awkward animal trainer problem: meeting new people means you struggle with not bringing up your animal friends too much.  But at IMATA conferences, you're surrounded by like-minded people who would love to talk shop all day, all night.  I dare you to not whip out your phone to show a picture of your favorite sea lion.

3. ...and catch up with old friends.  

This might be my favorite part of conferences.

People you know from your internships or jobs don't stick around forever.  It's one of the saddest parts of this career: our human friends tend to move on (or we move away from them).  You can keep up on Facebook or text every so often, but ain't nothing like talking about the good ol' days in person.  In the Bahamas.  On the beach.  Oh man, I can't wait!

2. Land an internship or job at career night....  

A sea of opportunity (ha ha! I'm so punny!)

Especially for you aspiring trainers, or trainers looking for new opportunities, this is not only a great way to land a job, but at the very least you're meeting prospective employers in person.  You can't put a price tag on that.  You can meet a lot of people from a lot of difference facilities in one night...and there's no other opportunity like it.

1. ....or, if you're already an established trainer, pay it back.  

Here I am as an intern/aspiring trainer enjoying flexibility I no longer have in my old age.  

For those of us who have a job, or who are part of building our team, let's not forget to pay it back.  Mingle with the future trainers, answer their questions and do for them what someone once did for you!

Here's a bonus reason to go to the conference: you get to see the awesome work Peppermint Narwhal does!

Let's not forget about the art contest, silent auction, and some of the free stuff you get.  So I'm basically telling you there are BONUS reasons for coming to this year's conference.  Hopefully I've inspired you to come to the Bahamas; see you there*!

Wanna go? Register here! You can still pre-register online!

* I'll be at the buffet

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Find A Friend!

There’s something really special about your first job in your chosen career field.   By “special”, I don’t necessarily mean that it’s always super fun.  The first position you hold, especially in a competitive field, carries a special sort of terror that is hard to replicate.  It’s the type of fear and anxiety that starts out as sheer catastrophic thinking and evolves over time into a comfortable and even pleasant Remember When memory.  The process by which this occurred is as mysterious to me as math concepts such as: long division.  But nonetheless, I remember my first job so fondly that it’s hard to imagine that I ever felt anything other than warm, fuzzy nostalgia.

Seriously, this was a great first job.

Now, I don’t want to scare any aspiring trainers reading this blog.  I know that you have worked really, really, really hard through college, internships and volunteering.  And you probably see getting your first job as the crest of the hill, and the rest of your career as an easy, downhill slide into bliss.

Well, it’s not totally like that.  I mean, it’s awesome when you land the job.  And you are going to have some awesome milestones and enjoy your job overall.  Chances are, you’ll work with some really great people.  But no matter how perfectly situated your workplace’re still gonna have a healthy helping of anxiety.

Hey, I was an anxious Cat too!


Well I mean, come on.  This is what you’ve always wanted.  And you had to compete against a lot of other people for this position.  Now you have to prove yourself and Do A Great Job.  But you, like everyone else*, are not perfect.  You’re gonna make mistakes and they’re going to feel like The End Of The World.  And also, someone you work with may call you out on that mistake in a way that falls into the Really Nice to Utterly Frightening continuum.  No judgments passed here in this blog, but that’s just the way it is.

My first job was like that.  I’m not complaining about my first job, but I’m just saying that I made some mistakes and was convinced on a regular basis that I was totally going to Get Fired and also that if I wasn’t the Worst Trainer Ever, I was at least in the top 5. It was perfectly normal anxiety, but boy at the time it seemed apocalyptic.  But I found there was something that got me through these feelings, and now I will share this advice with all of you:

Find A Friend.


My friend was a girl I’d met swim testing.  We got along right away, even though we thought we were technically competing with each other.  I was actually really intimidated by her initially, because she was so confident, friendly and just had the Dolphin Trainer look.  In fact, as I thought that looking at her, another girl in our swim test group said it aloud to her.  

We were both hired in the same department, and started within a week of each other.  We bonded immediately over our n00bness.  I wouldn’t say we even competed with each other, even though that commonly occurs with animal trainers at the starting stages.  We saw each other as an oasis and buoyed one another through the proverbial storm.   We were there for each other, alternating roles of therapist and patient through all of the Terrible Mistakes We Made That Totally Meant Our Imminent Termination, including but not limited to:

  • Not LRSing long enough
  • Weigh out the show buckets incorrectly
  • Forgetting to unlock the beach ball box during show set up
My life from summer 2006

Some of our mistakes really made us think we were finished.  When we had our checkout dive with the supervisor (and important milestone not only so we could contribute to the team, but also because it meant one more check on our checklist we needed to complete in that first year), we both screwed up.  I jumped in without my weight belt on, my friend jumped in without her regulator in her mouth.  We were both correctly called out on these blunders, and afterwards we told each other that we would probably wind up working in a bank somewhere.  You know, cleaning toilets.

But the shining moment we both enjoyed together - a moment I don’t think I would’ve survived on my own, and one we still talk about today - involved gravity and a thermometer.

Fact: This person should probably not handle breakable objects

We were both in the fish kitchen doing fish prep.  At the time, our apprentice trainer group was having difficultly completing fish prep for the 15+ dolphins in our department in a timely fashion.  I was one of the worst culprits, which is another story in and of itself.    So our boss irritatedly told us we had to be done by a certain time, with zero mistakes, or else there would be serious consequences.  All of us young’uns bucked up and toiled endlessly to find ways to be more efficient, terrified we’d Get In Trouble.

My partner in crime and I had had some problems in fish prep that morning.  They resulted in us needing to thaw a totally frozen box of fish, which TAKES FOREVERRRRRR.

I couldn't help myself

Those problems would slow down any Fish House maverick, but threw us into a total panic.  Plus, one of the more experienced trainers was working that day, and she was TOUGH.  We respected her a lot, but she was a tough boss.  We definitely didn’t want to disappoint her.

When we’d finished weighing out the fish, we busted out cleaning the entire kitchen, walk-in fridge, and did breakout.  We watched the clock tick closer and closer to 9:00, knowing we couldn’t take any shortcuts with this task for the sake of the animal’s health.  And we knew that if we walked into our office late, we’d get in trouble, get written up, which would go on some mysterious Marine Mammal Trainer Permanent Record and we’d get blackballed from the field and wind up selling pinecones door to door for the rest of our lives.**

But! A miracle occurred! We finished all of the cleaning.  Our pride with our task gleamed brighter than the sheen on the stainless steel sinks.  Not an item was out of place. All of the fish was weighed and sorted properly, and we had two minutes to spare.  One hundred and twenty glorious seconds to bask in our accomplishment, or so we thought.

There was a thermometer, like an old school one.

...just in case you forgot what a thermometer looks like.

We had to clean it.  And luckily, we had two full minutes to do so.

I don’t recall the process of cleaning it.  What I do recall is cleaning it, and then watching it decide to join in holy matrimony my arch nemesis: Gravity.  The thin, glass tube rolled gracefully out of my hand and plummeted onto the tile floor, shattering and scattering glass and its innards across the floor.

My coworker and I stared at one another in Utter Terror.  

If this had happened to us today, this is how the resulting conversation would’ve gone:

Me: Oh bummer.  I dropped the thermometer.

Coworker: Haha! You klutz.  Well, we better clean it up.

Me: Oh I got it.  You just let them know in the office what happened and I’ll be there in a minute.

Coworker: Okay! I’m sure Tough Boss will understand what happened.

But this is the conversation that actually happened:

Okay so this is slightly worse than our situation






So in our panic, instead of asking our boss (who would’ve totally understood the situation) about what to do, we decided to take matters into our own, shaking hands.  We got latex gloves (you know, to protect against the “mercury”), a dust pan and a knife and tried to scrape the little globules of thermometer juice up.  We may or may not have also tried to spray it with the hose, only to realize the substance was hydrophobic and split into zillions of tinier globules, giving us a rare real example of Infinity.

Once we had gotten most of the Mercury up, we hung our heads in shame and walked into our office.  Tough Boss was there, waiting to ask us about our latent arrival.  We explained to her what happened, saying we needed to make sure all the mercury was gone because we couldn’t have a hazardous chemical on the ground.  We knew our heads were on the chopping block, like totally for sure our career was over, but we deserved it after such a heinous mistake.

Haven't we all

Tough Boss laughed, explaining of course they wouldn’t have a mercury thermometer in the fish kitchen (it was gallium) and that we should really calm down, that kind of stuff happens.

So crisis averted.  But let me tell you, had that happened while I was by myself in that fish kitchen, I probably would’ve cleaned it up as best as I could through an intense panic attack until everything was clean and I could write what happened with dry erase marker on the refrigerator  (I’M SORRY I DROPPED THE THERMOMETER PLEASE LOOK AFTER MY PETS) and then my heart would stop and off of Marine Mammal Purgatory I’d go.

But having my pal there made all the difference.  We shared the fear in equal parts and processed the situation in a frantic but perfectly survivable manner.  And we never got fired.  In fact, we’ve both done pretty well in our careers.  

So Find A Friend, and remember that as long as you learn from your mistakes, it’s okay to mess up.  That no matter how god-awful your blunders seem, chances are you’ll laugh at them heartily later (after intense therapy in the early days thereafter).  And most importantly, especially for those of us more experienced trainers, to remember these early scary days and to be sensitive to our new employees when they drop thermometers.  


* Exceptions: Chris Hemsworth

** Or so it seems