Down East 2013 ©
This week, I offer a few stories of how we are kept from harm by those far wiser than us.
The garden hose spray nozzle came with all the appropriate safety warnings: “This product contains one or more chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer…” and more. It’s a hose nozzle from the hardware store. The cautionary words continue: “Do not spray water into electrical outlet. Severe electrical shock could result.” Cutting them some slack for the strange grammar, I have to say I feel a lot safer now. I might have aimed a stream of water into an outlet had I not read this fine print. Sure.
My mom says that her father used to remind her every day, “Don’t fall overboard.” She lobstered with her father in South Thomaston for a while a few decades ago. She told me once that she couldn’t help but wonder if he thought she really was going to fall overboard if he didn’t tell her not to.
Does anybody go out and have an accident because somebody failed to order them not to?
I wonder that the pilot of the Cessna 206 who landed his small plane on the 1,500-foot dirt airstrip and who brought the mail, assorted items of freight, and probably a few random sternmen to the island after the storm clouds parted dared to hand that hose nozzle to me on my doorstep. Sounds a bit dangerous. To be sure, there is no danger, except of encouraging a surfeit of lawyers (the population of which I have, should you care, done my small part not to increase).
Islanders are notorious lawbreakers anyway, as everybody knows. For example, we had to replace the expensive lithium battery for our automated external defibrillator (AED), a piece of lifesaving equipment which public safety advocates would like to see in as many places as possible, including airplanes and ferries. The AED battery arrived on Matinicus Island with a large sticker on the box, which bore the following notice (in bright red)
Lithium Batteries-Forbidden for Transport aboard Aircraft or Vessel
I guess we’d better not tell anybody how they got delivered to Matinicus Island Rescue.
Speaking of the Rescue, I’ve been trying for several days to buy a couple of bottles of water. It’s been rather more difficult than would seem necessary. Actually, what I need is sterile saline, very much the same as what you’d buy at the grocer’s to clean your contact lenses. I was placing my regular order with our regular supplier, as the director of our little (and I mean really little) emergency medical service here on Matinicus, because a few items which we normally keep on hand will be out of date soon. Matinicus Island Rescue is required by the state of Maine, which inspects and licenses our service, to stock sterile saline along with bandaging and splinting materials, oxygen, and the rest of our basic EMS kit. When packaged for health care providers, sterile saline (very dilute salt water, gentler to wounded tissue than plain water) is a pharmaceutical requiring a prescription, and cannot simply be combined with an order for glucose gel, sterile eyewash solution, aqueous activated charcoal, blood glucose test strips, povidone-iodine surgical disinfectant, and other preparations which, one might think, seem somewhat less likely to be intended for the general public.
No. Anybody can buy those other medical-sounding things. You just can’t have the clean salt water unless the doctor says so. Or, unless you happen to wear contact lenses.
The medical supply company from which I was trying to order was not allowed to accept my state EMS license as sufficient documentation. The very nice customer service clerk, who listened to me rant, muttered something about people cooking meth. I somehow doubt that’s the issue, but OK. They faxed me a bunch of stuff to be filled out by a physician. I’d already been through this a couple of years ago, but it all had to be done again. There is no physician on Matinicus Island, but that, of course, is not their problem.
Through the efforts of the nurse on the Sunbeam, the doc on Vinalhaven, and a pharmacist in Rockport (who explained that there was worry out there that “people would try to do their own health care unsupervised”), I will be prescribed four bottles of sterile saline, which will sit on the shelf in the first aid shed and likely go out of date, like it did last year and the year before. Hopefully.
At that point, somebody will take it home and use it to clean their contact lenses.
We also had occasion recently, as we very frequently do, to order some items from an excellent industrial supplier of nearly everything called Grainger. Red, white and black Grainger boxes are ubiquitous in my home. When our kids were little, a whole array of these boxes held toy trucks and blocks and the like. We pack up Christmas cookies to mail in Grainger boxes; like peanut butter jars in a workshop, we use them for everything. Doing island maintenance, we order a lot of stuff. The Grainger catalog is four inches thick and, like a telephone book in a big city or the old-time Sears & Roebuck catalog, makes a fine booster seat for a toddler at the supper table.
Anyway, the Grainger company is very conscientious about sending, along with everything they ship, a Materials Safety Data Sheet. This paperwork details any fire, health, or other hazards possibly associated with use of or exposure to the product, and makes a lot of sense with chemicals like solvents or paints. The paperwork is unfortunately printed in tiny script and is largely written in what appears to be Martian, but once you get used to them, they do contain important information should there be a spill, a fire, or the like. Firefighters, hazardous materials handlers, truckers, trash people, EMTs, tradesmen, and hobbyists are all supposed to understand them, and my household includes all of those. The MSDS advises how to respond should you get some quantity of chemical on your skin, for example.
Or should you eat some three-inch steel U-bolts.
Or maybe stick them in your eye, I don’t know. I myself found it very reassuring that the ordinary steel bolts we received came with their own Materials Safety Data Sheet. Unbelievable. So, by the way, do Elmer’s glue, lumber crayons, and electrical tape.
It never ends.
Hopefully sterile saline and garden hose spray nozzles and defibrillator batteries have them as well, because those items are, of course, dangerous.
Eva Murray always crosses in the crosswalk on Matinicus Island.