Attention chemists and nurses.
May 21, 2009 11:44 PM   Subscribe

What chemical did I inject into myself, and will I be okay?

Today I was in a biology lab taking apart a massive (refrigerator-sized) apparatus. I'm pretty sure the apparatus was built and used (for about 30 years) for running parallel executions of the Kjeldahl method on lake water samples. It's also possible that it was for determining mercury content. The setup seemed to be mainly for distillation, but there was a lot going on and nobody ran me through how the procedure was once done. There was what appeared to be a condensation chamber with a long glass discharge tube. I got a small puncture wound on the bottom of my forearm from the broken end of this tube, which bled for a bit. I cleaned this with alcohol and covered it with a band-aid, but a few hours afterwards the wound looks questionable. It's developed a red swollen area about the size of a quarter, and a red line extending about an inch straight away from the puncture site, suggesting an irritating substance in the vein. The red line looks like a scratch, but I didn't scratch myself and it seems to have grown. So far (13 hours later) there's no pus.

It hasn't been used in at least a year, but there were decades of chemical buildup and residue on everything. Based on the Wikipedia article on the Kjeldahl method, it looks like the chemicals that might have been in the tube are sodium hydroxide, ammonia, boric acid, and possibly mercury oxide or copper sulfate, as well as of course the trouble substances mentioned above. There were asbestos and lead pipes involved, with masses of corroded lead built up on other areas of the apparatus. There was also caked yellow residue that smelled like sulfur, and quite a bit of rust.

Does anyone have any relevant insights? Which of these things do you think would be present and would, in a small quantity, inflame a puncture wound in this way? What's the right medical treatment or the odds of it resolving itself? Will I lose my hand?

Also: I don't mind lots of responses, but this is a question referring to some pretty specific knowledge, so if you're taking a shot in the dark just let me know.
posted by lostburner to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Good god man. Doctor. Now.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:53 PM on May 21, 2009 [10 favorites]

Whatever the chemical, you're having a reaction to it and you need a physician to evaluate the wound. Please go to a doc-in-the-box, student health center if relevant or to the emergency room. I would not wait until morning to get it checked out.

Hopefully all you need is some Benadryl. *That's not medical advice*

I know I don't answer the direct question you asked, but your description alarmed me enough to give what I believe is a valid answer.
posted by vincele at 11:55 PM on May 21, 2009

Please go to a doctor! Aside from the nasty chemicals, rust + puncture wound can = tetanus, for which you need to get a shot asap. If that red line keeps growing, it could indicate blood poisoning and not just inflammation.
posted by sumiami at 11:56 PM on May 21, 2009

Doctor. Now. Don't mess around with this. Go
posted by azpenguin at 12:05 AM on May 22, 2009

I have no medical experience at all! However, my mother's first husband was incredibly sick for almost all of their marriage, and one of the things she learned and passed on to me was this: if you have a wound and you start to see a line move from it, as if following a vein, get yourself to the doctor immediately.
posted by Ms. Saint at 12:08 AM on May 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

Perhaps you could call a poison control center or a 24 hour advice nurse hotline for a consultation from a professional as to whether you need to see a doctor immediately or if it can wait until morning.
posted by zachlipton at 12:22 AM on May 22, 2009

On all your recommendations, I called (woke up) my mom, an RN, and she said go get it checked out despite the time. I'll let you know how it goes.
posted by lostburner at 12:26 AM on May 22, 2009

Sounds like it could be lymphangitis (pic), which would mean some sort of bacterial infection. You should have blood work done post haste. Go to the ER.

I am not even vaguely a doctor, just a hypocondriac that can google.
posted by phrontist at 12:31 AM on May 22, 2009

Yay for moms!

I'm a little accident prone, and so I have cuts, scrapes, and bruises all over. Most I don't even remember how I got them. But I've never had one expand to a quarter sized area with a red line before. That's a big trouble sign right there.
posted by sbutler at 12:33 AM on May 22, 2009

Even aside from going to see the doc (which, good move), this is absolutely something you should have spoken to the lab's safety officer about - that's what they're there for! Even if they're not immediately familiar with what that equipment was used for, they know who in the lab would know, and how to find out what sort of things you might have been exposed to.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:05 AM on May 22, 2009

It might be helpful for the docs to have the piece of glass you punctured yourself with, so they can have it tested for toxins. Call the lab safety officer (day or night) and ask them to secure the piece for evaluation for toxins.
posted by zippy at 1:42 AM on May 22, 2009

Docs said it was nothing, but gave a tetanus shot and prescribed an antibiotic just in case. They weren't alarmed by the red line since it was running across the arm, instead of down towards the armpit. And it looks like they'll try to collect from Workers' Comp. Case closed! Thanks, all.
posted by lostburner at 2:45 AM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

And it looks like they'll try to collect from Workers' Comp. Case closed!

Just as an aside, in NZ at least if you don't file a report with the lab manager you don't get ACC (workers comp). You can also be fined (actually, so can your lab manager). The rules are very likely different where you are but still, you need to go in and make a report today so that they know what happened, can make sure it doesn't happen to someone else, and aren't surprised when the compensation claim comes in. So case not entirely closed yet. Please follow up on this with your lab.
posted by shelleycat at 2:57 PM on May 22, 2009

On instruction from the hospital, I did get in touch with my supervisor the next day and forms have been filed. The worker's comp company is handling it enthusiastically and responsibly.
posted by lostburner at 9:04 AM on May 23, 2009

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