I kind of waited a while before telling you this story to make sure it has a happy ending, because at the time it was pretty scary, and it was totally my fault and something that made me feel really, really stupid.
I was dyeing. Now, y'all know this is something I do rather a *lot* as in several times a month, and I've been doing it for several years. After a while, I learned to be more careful and started wearing a bandanna doubled over my nose and mouth, as well as latex gloves.
And here I have to say something about dust masks and respirators. We were at the polling place on election day (yes, the same one where we were behind Claytie), and one of the workers was walking around with a dust mask over her face. I figured she had a compromised immune system, but when someone asked her if she were sick or were just making sure she didn't GET sick, she said, no, she was just hugely allergic to perfume. This kind of stuff just makes me nuts, because I've heard people say stuff like this before. I want to print out the OSHA guidelines and hand them a copy, but I'm guessing the word "particulate" would be about as far as they'd get, reading-wise. Here's the deal: a dust mask, or a folded bandanna, will filter out *only* particulates, or dust. Cat fur. Lint. Stuff that comes in particles and gets in the air. You'd wear a dust mask when you were sweeping or using a leaf blower or working with powdered stuff, like dye before you mix it in water. That's why I was wearing a bandanna over my nose and mouth. It wouldn't have filtered out fumes, but it kept me from inhaling the powdered dye. That dust mask over that woman's face? It didn't do squat for the fumes from perfume, or from anything else.
So if you're working with solvent or thinner or anything you don't want in your lungs, forget the dust mask. You need a respirator AND a ton of ventilation (open windows! a ventilator fan! the great outdoors! or how about avoiding those chemicals entirely and figure out something else to use?)
On this particular day I was adding the soda ash to the dye bath, masked and gloved up as usual. I mix it with hot water, stir it up, and turn the water on in the washing machine by setting it to a higher fill level. I hold the cup of soda ash under the water to let it dilute as it runs into the dye bath, something I've done a hundred times before. And as it splashed into the cup, a drop—a single drop—leapt up and hit me in the eye. As soon as it hit, it burned, and in one smooth maneuver I wouldn't have thought possible, I hit the knob to turn off the water, ripped off my mask and gloves, and was in the bathroom over the sink with cold running water, all before I took a breath. I washed out my eye for who-knows-how-long. Because I'm one of those people who pays attention to this stuff, I know that you rinse out your eye with cold running water for 15 minutes. But, y'all, do you have any idea how long 15 minutes is when you're leaning over the bathroom sink, holding your eye open? I think it's the equivalent of 1,000 years spent doing something you love, like eating pie. Times slows to a crawl. [Note: you get in the shower, set it on a gentle stream, and do it that way. The 15 minutes is important enough to do that, OK?]
After it quit burning and I figured my eyeball wasn't going to melt and run down my face, I called my optometrist's office and got an emergency appointment and went in. He's a guy not given to a great bedside manner, not that he needs one, doing eyes and stuff, but he finds the stuff I do fascinating: he was my source many years ago when I wrote an article about safety for Rubberstampmadness, and fine glitter was all the rage, and I called him up and asked him about glitter and eye safety (if it's not ground glass glitter, it poses little danger, but you do not want to, you know, deliberately put it in your eyes or anything. Duh). He was really interested in what I had been doing and what chemicals I was using. I was glad I knew that soda ash, also known as "washing powder," is sodium carbonate, not to be confused, as many people do, with sodium bicarbonate, which is baking soda. But then he got me by asking if it was a base, and I had no clue. I still don't, but here's info for you.
We talked about eye safety in doing stuff like this. He rec. the getting-into-the-shower thing for washing out the eye, and he said that goggles are better than safety glasses, which a lot of people prefer because they're more comfortable. He said, "If something splashes onto your forehead, where's it going to go?" Of course: it will run down into your eye. Hence: goggles, rather than open glasses.
He also rec. keeping a bottle of contact lens solution in the studio as an emergency eye wash. Go out and buy a bottle right. this. minute. OK?
He washed out my eye once again and checked for burns (some very minor stuff on the surface, but nothing serious or permanent), and I hopped in the car and drove across the parking lot to Home Depot and bought this:
[Note: In case you're wondering, no. I do not wear these all the time, all Howard Hughes-with-the-Kleenex-boxes. I don't have those kinds of issues. I do try to take care of my hands, though, because I kind of need them a lot. Even chapped skin is a big deal when you're working with fabric; yesterday I was working with silk, and the rough skin on the tips of my fingers, where I stab myself with the needle, kept catching and pulling the thread in a highly annoying way.]
So if you use anything—anything!— that might splash or drip or pop or poke into your eye, go get some of these and WEAR THEM. I know a couple people who lost an eye. One guy was working on a car and had a wire that snapped off a tiny piece that lunged at him and lodged in his eye. The resultant infection moved to the other eye, too, and he was lucky they could save the sight in that one. Scary stuff.
So, yeah, sure: I look goofy as hell.
But do I care? No, I don't, and you shouldn't either. And that's why I'm changing my profile photo on Facebook: if I can look like this online, you can look like this in the privacy of your workspace. If, indeed, there still *is* such a thing as "privacy."