Syn2Psy Blog Series IX

An alternative approach to writing protocols (Orsolya Antal)

When I first had to choose my time for writing a blog, I thought this month would be just perfect. Back then, I planned to write this after our second meeting in France – cool science and Paris, what more do you need?

Then, of course, things changed, so I found myself revisiting an idea I had a while ago. The initial version of this short piece came to life on a February afternoon, when my attempts to learn as much as I could about experiments with mouse behaviour were suddenly interrupted by a fast-approaching deadline to submit a creative writing piece for my science communication course, so I combined the two, taking one or two artistic liberties. Despite not having done creative writing for a very long time, I ended up really enjoying it, but never quite made the time to revisit and finish it in a slightly more polished way. Until now, that is, and I was hoping to share it. I hope you’ll enjoy an alternative perspective on a day in the life in the lab:

A Day in the Life

Schematic of a laboratory mouse absolutely not thinking about biting the experimenter’s hands (who, them? Never.)

Days are calm here. There’s a routine to everything, day after day after day. It’s morning and then it’s evening, always at the same time. You get used to the monotony and when it’s all you’ve ever known; you might even find the structure comforting. There are no changes, no unexpected disturbances, nothing to fear. It’s serene here in the lab, really.

For as long as I can remember, it’s just been the three of us. I’ve heard there are many other groups, even saw a few of them a couple times, but only very briefly. Shorttail and Skitter, however, have been here since we were born, and we’ve become a tight bunch over the weeks. It’s good I’m not alone, too. Being alone is very scary: just imagine, you’re all alone in that huge box with nothing to do all day. Sure, you can run around and explore all the nooks and crannies and folds, but there’s no Skitter to complain about Shorttail stomping on his tail again (“Whiskers, tell him to stop”) and no Shorttail to brag how he’s the toughest mouse around (he’s not). I’m glad to have them around, even if they get on my nerves sometimes. The space and company we have is not much, but it’s enough for us. I guess you’re okay with your world not being too big when you’re so small.

One day, however, this all changed.

It started as just another day.

We almost didn’t even notice Coat come in. We had seen her before a few times. Initially she smelled weird, but then we ended up getting on. I like that one, especially if there are treats involved. For future reference, I myself am particular about peanut butter, Skitter is more of a Nutella-aficionado. Shorttail just eats whatever he’s given.

Then suddenly it was as if the ground shook. Shorttail was the first to realise that we were being moved. But where? Why? For what purpose? Was it Coat? I was more curious than scared, but I must admit to being… cautiously apprehensive about the situation. Skitter, on the other hand, was frantic with worry. Thankfully, our sudden journey didn’t last very long and we arrived. To another floor? It smelled familiar, and we saw some of the others as well. If there were other mice around, we were probably not in danger. Besides, as the initial surprise wore off, I was starting to get excited. An adventure!

Soon after, Coat reappeared. All we heard was some faffing around in the room, I think I saw some bits of walls being moved around and then our roof was coming off and suddenly the world expanded. Forgetting how anxious he was becoming, even Skitter joined us in trying to climb and reach as high as we could so that we could sneak a look outside. Shorttail spotted a route along the piece of paper towards the edge of the box, but before he could reach it, he was grabbed by Coat. Just like that, Shorttail was gone. Skitter kept asking me what was going on with him and was he going to be alright? Would he return? Was he gone forever? Were we next? Having no answers, I went to see if I could learn anything else about our surroundings. Shorttail returned (or, rather, was returned) soon after, and while he was slightly bamboozled about the sudden change in circumstances, he appeared unharmed. Before he could tell me what he saw, however, it turned out that I was the next to go off into the unknown.

The unknown ended up being a weird white room with two towers. It was slightly more spacious than our previous box, I saw no immediate threats. It was time to explore! First, I wanted to see those towers up close. After thorough examination, I found that while they were quite tall, they could be climbed on. Having no other option (because really, would you expect me to stay still? On the ground? While there’s a tower to be climbed? Come on, now), I jumped on top and tried to see what was going on, this time from higher ground. You could almost see the edge of the box and the vast room beyond. Tragically, the edge was just a little too far to make a jump for it. Conceding that the large room was probably out of my reach, I climbed down and continued to roam around the smaller one. After a while, Coat must’ve had enough as I was transported back home. (I do not appreciate being picked up at all. Terribly uncomfortable and this time we’re not even getting food. I was only in it for the food. Unhand me, human!)

As it turned out, all three of us had to go through this, so Skitter was next. He was more agitated than Shorttail and me, and he very much did not wish to go. He managed to evade Coat for quite a while, eliciting noises of exasperation from her, but was eventually caught. He returned in one piece as well, if only a bit annoyed at being put through such an ordeal. With that, we seemed to have been given some respite. Coat left and finally we had some time to rest and try to make sense of exactly what just happened.

The next few hours went by peacefully. Left to our own devices, we wondered what was going on. Shorttail appreciated the changes in scenery while Skitter appeared to be a bit disturbed by them. It was nothing special, really, just a new room for us to explore, even if Coat appeared to take us from one place to another at her leisure. For now, we revelled in having a break and not having to worry about who was going to be taken where next.

Our peace was disturbed again soon enough. Coat returned and pursued us again. As before, Shorttail was the first to go, followed by me and then Skitter. However, as soon as I was put in the white room again, I noticed that something was off. It was almost the same as before, yet it was as if one of the towers had been moved. Weird. I went over to see if there was anything different about it, but it appeared to be the same tower as before (you could still climb on top of it, I was happy to note). Then why move it? Was it the other one that was changed? I ran back to examine that one as well, but just like before, no change. The view from the top of the tower was the same as well (as expected, but I just had to make sure). I kept trying to figure out what was new, but I must’ve run out of time as I was picked up and put back with the others. After Skitter had finished as well, I quizzed him and Shorttail to see if they could make any more sense of it. Shorttail was similarly confused, while Skitter appeared nonchalant about it (“they were just towers in a room, what about it?”), as if he thought nothing had changed. Weird, though he has been a bit forgetful lately. Shorttail and I had started wondering if there might be something wrong with Skitter.

It turned out that had been the end of our day of adventure. Coat had replaced our roof and then the floor turned unstable yet again – we were travelling, back to our usual place. To our usual routine. As adventurous as the day had turned out to be, I was happy to go back to some peace and quiet (and Shorttail bragging and Skitter complaining). While munching on our dinner, we were wondering if this was a one-time occasion or there were others still to follow. I guess we would find out. For the time being, we went back to our serene routine and waited for what would come next – ready for just another day.

By Orsolya Antal

Be the first to reply

Leave a Reply