I (DON’T!) smell gas…


Our fireplace, recently. Do you smell gas?!

What a day! What a week! What a month, and it’s only halfway through. In my nearly 10 years as a PI, I have not yet had a month with so much juggling. Four seminars in the span of a few weeks, including one coming up in Toronto. On different projects and topics, including one on student fellowship application tips. Five different grants, two new students (now 6 in total) in the lab, teaching, preparing handouts, exams, grading, meetings, biosketches, grant reviews, manuscript reviews, papers being written, rewritten, submitted, resubmitted. And on and on.

STOP! Before I blow a gasket! And now for something completely different, but more irritating than anything mentioned above.

This Sunday, we warmed up the ole TV to get our fix of the second episode of this season’s Downton Abbey (fearful of a downgrade to Downton Place). As it has been a bit nippy here in the midwest, we turned on the gas fireplace that we installed almost 10 years ago–except for the snap-crackle-pop of the logs, the gas fixture could pretty much fool anyone. Complete with ashes that glow. And it warms the room nicely. Well it did, until…

Until we began to smell gas–or more accurately, the odor added to natural gas to warn of gas leaks. Well, we shut off the gas in the fireplace, watched Downton, and got on with our lives.

Thus arises the question or who to call to deal with the problem. Swamped as I was at work, I nonetheless remembered to bring a old energy bill so I could call the gas company for advice on who might be able to check out the problem and repair it. I placed the call from work, about 12 miles from home, at 3 pm. That was a big mistake!

“Do you smell gas?”

“I did, but not right now…”

Name. Address. Customer ID. etc.

“But I just want to ask a question, do you know who might be able to look at our fireplace?”

“Our team will, they’ll be there within the hour.”

“Uh, no, how about Friday morning?”

“It doesn’t work like that. If you smell gas, we have to come check it out within the hour. Those are the regulations.”

“But I’m at work! I can’t leave for home now.”

“Well, they’ll do what they can from the outside, and shut down the gas if they have to.”

“You mean I won’t have heating when I get home? But I DON’T smell gas! I’m not even at home.”

“But you said you smelled gas. Whenever anyone says that, we have liability laws that require a visit within the hour.”

“Okay, I SMELLED gas. Past tense. It’s gone, over, done, finito. Now there’s NO GAS. So cancel the visit.”

“I can’t do that sir. If you said you smelled gas, then we need to check it out.”

“But no I say I DON’T smell gas! Why not accept that! As I said, I’m 12 miles from home. I couldn’t possibly smell gas from here. Check where I’m calling from, it’s the medical center!”

After two supervisors, it was no good. I even pulled the P-card: professor, that is. All that did was have the supervisor cal, me professor, rather than Mr. Caplan.

My spouse managed to get home as they were shutting off our gas, about to send our guinea pig into enforced Siberia. But all is well now. Another day in the trenches.

And if you smell gas, think twice before calling “SNIFFY:”

sniffySniffy says, if you smell gas….

  1. If you detect a faint odor of natural gas, check the pilot lights. If the pilot light or burner flame is out, shut off the gas supply. Allow ample time for any gas accumulation to escape before relighting.
  2. If you smell an odor or know there is a damaged gas line, do not light any matches, candles, cigarette lighters, flashlights, motors or appliances. Don’t use the light switch, telephone or cell phone.
  3. Get everyone out of the building. Call us at XXX-XXX-XXXX to have the gas shut off from a phone not located in the building.


About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/entity/author/B006CSULBW? All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
This entry was posted in research, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to I (DON’T!) smell gas…

  1. rpg says:

    *unseemly giggling*

    What a lark, Steve. Sounds similar to the box-ticking I mentioned in my recent OC post—all the intentions are there to ensure a safe and healthy existence, but they are manifest in inflexible regulations that pay no attention to actually what’s going on…

    • Steve Caplan says:

      Lark? Not funny! But yes, similar to your elf & safety, from overload of rules and regulations, they obviously missed the point.

      Imagine a patient coming to the hospital–“But the tests now show my liver has normal function?!”

      “Sorry sir, once a transplant has been decided on we must go ahead with the procedure!”

      Same idea.

  2. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    A couple of winters ago, we kept hearing this weird beeping every time we turned our heating on. We just could not find the source – we put new batteries in every smoke detector in the house, to no avail – but we started to notice that every time the heating was on, we also started to get quite sleepy. We immediately suspected carbon monoxide, mentally thanked the previous owner for installing an alarm even if we couldn’t find it, switched the heating off, and opened all the doors and windows. That was at about 6 pm on a Monday night, and we felt quite normal, so we closed the doors after a couple of hours (we left the windows open), went to bed with an extra duvet and went off to work the next morning. A series of after-work social events that week meant that it was a few very, very cold days and even colder nights before we got around to installing a brand new digital carbon monoxide monitor, switching the heating back on, and going out for a while. When we came back there was still the same old beeping, but the (rather expensive) monitor that we’d stuck right next to the heating vent was reading zero. Curiouser and curiouser… we conducted the most thorough search yet for the source of the beeping, and finally found another smoke alarm that we didn’t even know was there, tucked in behind some weird little cupboard under the stairs. Turns out the battery was so close to being dead that it could only sound the alarm when it was warm – when the heating was off, the battery shut down completely. We still don’t know why we were getting so sleepy, but suspect that the cold and dark of winter, plus the pasta dinners we were making that week, may explain it. The new monitor we bought has never, ever, displayed any number other than zero.

Comments are closed.