Towards the end of the summer, the pressure was on and I needed to get things squared away by the weekend, so while everyone else was at lunch I was busy in the lab pushing back the frontiers alone. I was a dab hand now at modified Step 7, so I lifted that day’s rack of eppendorfs out of the waterbath and started flipping open the lids for Step 8. On the second tube, a drop of radio-active condensation flew out of the lid into the corner of my eye. Simultaneously, from the corner of the other eye, I saw the plexiglass shield, which should have been protecting me from such a misadventure, standing ineffectually 2 feet to my right.
I don’t think I shrieked, but I did clap one hand to my face and stumble over to the sink where I rinsed out my eye under the tap for a llllooonnnngg time. From the sink, I went to the Geiger-counter and heaved a sigh of relief when, as I thrust the detector up to my orbit, that didn’t shriek either.
As a scientist, ideas come to you at the weirdest moments. Several weeks later, I was walking home through the summer evening and I realised with shoulder-sagging certainty that the reason the Geiger-counter hadn’t registered was because, in my incompetent panic, I hadn’t switched it on!
Twenty-five years on I’m still expecting an ocular orbital tumour to appear.