Don’t Do This Before Your MCAT
College was the best time of my life. I met the best of friends, had the best of times, and got a wonderful education. College is also a time where really smart people make incredibly stupid decisions. This is a story about some of the stupid decisions we made.
Junior year of college as a pre-medical student is particularly rough. You have to somehow manage some of the most difficult classes towards your degree while simultaneously studying for the MCAT.
For me, I had the extra pressure of dealing with test taking anxiety. At times, it crippled me. I had to study extra hard in order to keep up. Come finals week, I was a nervous wreck. I was the guy who immediately after finishing an exam, having memorized the test questions, would go back and look everything up in the book and see if I answered the questions correctly. That’s like self-inflicted water boarding, only worse. Then, after having realized I tanked it, I would go to my room and try to figure out what astronomical score I would need on the next exam to get an A in the class. Total wacko.
One of the things I did to help bolster my GPA during that year was take this class where you go to elementary schools and teach the kids science. It was an advanced level course and I got paid to be the teaching assistant. I could recruit my friends and it was a great way to make some extra cash and get an “easy A”.
I brought in three of my buds. We paired up so we could teach in teams. All of us were Middle Eastern guys plus one Indian, but for story’s sake, I’ll keep their real names private. Let’s call these brown dudes Connor, Max, Landon, and me, Ahmed. There’s a 5th guy to this story, who wasn’t in the class, but very pivotal to this story. Also an Arab, let’s call him….Dustin.
It was the day before the MCAT. Max and I would teach 5th graders about chemical phase changes, while Connor and Landon taught 4th graders something else.
We’d go in, we’d teach something cool, we’d get out, and we’d be done.
So I thought.
Just some background. Max is a genius. When I would study for 4 hours straight, I patted myself on the back and told myself I deserved some ice cream. Max would study for 18 hours straight at weird coffee shops and take breaks at 3 AM to play chess with random people. One time, after an all night study session, he took a nap in his car before an exam, woke up realizing he was late by 45 minutes, ran to class, and still scored 110%. (He got the bonus question right).
Max and I thought we should make this presentation fun, so we got dry ice to teach the concept of Sublimation- the phase change that goes directly from solid to gas. With the dry ice, we wanted to show how powerful the pressure would be if we put it in a plastic coke bottle filled halfway with water. Once the bottle was filled, we’d close it off with a lid, put a small trashcan on top, and watch it blast off 100 feet in the air.
We also wanted to create a rain cloud. Seriously. Some guy in our class told us that if we poured liquid nitrogen into boiling hot water, a cloud would form and rain would fall from it. Apparently his Chemistry teacher did it. We thought we could give it a try.
That morning, I went to the chemistry lab to pick up the dry ice and liquid nitrogen. Supposedly, I was deemed responsible enough to check both items out with the understanding that I’d bring them back the same day. I took the job seriously and didn’t want any mishaps. I spoke with the elementary school teacher and principal and made sure our experiments were approved.
I had every intention to get that stuff back to the university on time.
Max and I got to the elementary school and we were excited to see the kids. It was just before dismissal time, and the class met us outside for the session. They knew we were going to do some fun activities since we met with them every week. While I went inside to get some boiling hot water for our liquid nitrogen rain cloud, Max started talking about dry ice and its properties, and how it must be handled by professionals….like us.
He goes on to demonstrate putting some dry ice into a plastic coke bottle, closes it, and sets it down. The teacher and the kids were waiting anxiously for something to happen. Strangely, nothing happened. He waited a couple of minutes before approaching, knowing very well that this thing could burst any second. Just when he thinks its safe, he picks it up, and POP! The plastic bottle shattered in his hands gave him some cuts. Not knowing what to do, he just kicked the bottle out of harms way.
The guy just gave the friggin’ class a lecture on safety.
I come running trying to figure out what just happened, and I hear Max wagging his finger to the kids saying, “And that’s exactly why this stuff needs to be handled by professionals….like us.”
“Dude, are you okay?”, I asked. “Let me see your hands. Crap, we have MCAT on Saturday. You need your hands, bro.”
“I’m fine. I’m fine”, he said, clearly shaken by the incident.
When we turned back around, this was the expression on everybody’s face.
Needing to change the mood fast, we moved on to the liquid nitrogen cloud. I had brought out the tub of boiling water and it was cooling rapidly. We needed to get moving before it would be rendered useless. Max held the tub tightly while I quickly poured the liquid nitrogen. This is a good online representation of what happened.
It was awesome. No, it didn’t rain from the cloud, but it looked so cool that nobody cared. All the kids were zoned in to our presentation now. We had a little bit of time before dismissal, so we figured we needed to rectify our dry ice experiment. After going into an open field, Max got the trashcan. I filled another bottle of Coke with water and dry ice, tightened the cap really hard, and placed the trashcan on top. WE RAN LIKE BLOODY HELL about 30 feet away where the rest of the class was waiting anxiously.
We looked at each other, crossed our fingers, and waited.
The first 24 seconds of this video of these guys on YouTube shows an almost exact representation of what happened.
THE KIDS WENT NUTS! PANDAMONIUM! They ran all over the place giving high fives, screaming, “OH MY GAWD!”, the teacher was laughing, and they scattered out of the open field on the way home.
We felt great about how the event ended, but we needed to bolt out of there quickly.
I NEEDED TO RETURN THE DRY ICE and LIQUID NITROGEN TO THE LAB ASAP. Being paranoid, I rushed us to the car, and sped off towards campus. It was getting late in the day and the elementary school was 45 minutes away. By the time we got there, the lab was closed.
Now I gotta take this stuff home with me. A canister full of liquid nitrogen and an apartment full of guys is not the combination I was looking for.
Max and I, along with Connor, lived together in the same apartment. Connor and Landon had just gotten home as we arrived. We were so eager to tell them about our day teaching and the craziness that happened. Max showed them what happened to his hands, and how he was lucky to have escaped a bad injury.
Now, remember our other friend, Dustin? Dustin was a good friend of ours and he showed up at our place to hang out. I was burned out from the day, and with the MCAT early the next morning, I just wanted to go to my room and prepare myself mentally for the exam. Dustin, chilling on the couch, notices the liquid nitrogen cylinder in the corner.
“What’s that?” he asked. When we told him what it was, he says, “Oh, that’s the stuff from Terminator 2. I heard that if you put your hand in liquid nitrogen, it’d freeze and fall off.”
Blank stares all around.
“If there is any left, can we pour some on fruit?” “It’ll be awesome. “Just for a couple of minutes.”
I don’t know why, but the idea seemed harmless to me. I figured they’d pour some on fruit, put it away, and we’d all go to sleep early. Especially with what had happened to Max earlier in the day, they’d be extra careful.
What’s the worst thing that could happen?
I said fine, went to my room and got ready to take a shower. I could hear them outside the patio having a good time with the liquid nitrogen, throwing apples against the wall. I smiled to myself. I was happy to hear them having a blast.
It wasn’t more than 20 minutes later, when just as I put my feet in the shower, I heard something that literally shook the floor below me.
(In my mind, I’m sayin’)
“OMAGOD OMAGOD OMAGOD (my friends are dead) OMAGOD OMAGOD OMAGOD (I’m gonna fail my MCAT) OMAGOD OMAGOD OMAGOD (I’m gonna get kicked out of school) OMAGOD OMAGOD OMAGOD OMAGOD!
What the hell just happened?! I ran out of the room wearing nothing but a towel towards the patio and in front of me is like scene out of a war movie. This tall and lanky blob that looked like Dustin was running back and forth through a plume of smoke, screaming at the top of his lungs. He couldn’t hear anything we were saying, cause his ears were still ringing from the blast. He had blood streaming down his face. Holy crap.
Here’s what happened.
Everything was going smoothly. They were making frozen fruit with the liquid nitrogen and throwing it up against the wall. Ha ha, cool. At some point, these morons decide that maybe it would be cool to put the liquid nitrogen in a coke bottle and see what happens. Not the dry ice. THE LIQUID FRIGGIN NITROGEN. Dustin started throwing the bottle up and down in the air, catching it each time. Just as Max was telling him to stop…well, what happened was an explosion that set off car alarms in the neighborhood, shards of plastic everywhere, and a little piece of Dustin’s ear somewhere in the grass.
We all ran into the house and try to figure out what to do. Dustin had his hands over his ears and was starting to get his hearing back. I yelled at all of them for being so stupid! I thought we were cooked and that the cops would arrive at any moment. Dustin ended up being ok and not needing to go to the hospital. My plan to chill out the night before the exam somehow turned into a nightmare.
We all slept with one eye open, scared every time we heard a police siren. The next morning, we all got up and took the MCAT. We laugh about this story every time we meet up, knowing that it could have been much, much worse. So is college.
Somehow, we all did well enough to get into medical school.
10 years later, this is what the cast is doing:
Connor: Critical Care/Pulmonologist
Dustin: Internal Medicine Physician
*Dustin is still looking for a piece of his ear.*