Whip it real good

I was on call this past weekend, and so I was not surprised when my phone rang at 6:00am with some Intern desperate to inform me about a patient.  As he stuttered his way through a list of issues, I thought, “Oh, the days of Internship. I do not miss them for one minute.” I was almost tempted to grill him on the criteria for diagnosing a tachy arrhythmia, but I thought better of it. I’m getting softer with age.

Realizing I wouldn’t be able to go back to bed, I got up and decided to head over to the hospital.  Walking through Chelsea, it dawned on me that New York at 7:00am is a very strange place. There was a black man wearing a derby, sunglasses and headphones, tap dancing to his reflection in the mirror of a Mexican restaurant. Several gay club kids stomped up Eighth Avenue, shouting loudly and working the sidewalk like a runway. A Russian woman grabbed my arm on Fourteenth Street asking for directions. She said she needed to get to, “E-leven Street and two?”

As I crossed Seventh Avenue by Twelfth Street, I saw a splatter of silver on the corner, like a puddle of mercury collecting on the curb.  Of course I moved toward it with great curiosity. Upon closer inspection I thought someone had dropped a box of bullets. You could imagine the story that played out in my mind? Did they belong to the Russian woman? Was I going to see a dead body down 13th street?


What I found was a box of whippets. No, not the breed of dog but those canisters filled with nitrous oxide used to make whipped cream.


Nitrous Oxide, also known as laughing gas, is a weak anaesthetic  that was first synthesised in 1775 by Joseph Priestley. Of the three early anaesthetics discovered (chloroform, ether and nitrous oxide) it is the only one still in regular use. Insufficient for routine surgical procedures, nitrous oxide is ideal for the lesser pain of dentistry. However, nitrous oxide has been used recreationally. When inhaled, the nitrous oxide leaves you lightheaded and euphoric for several seconds.


Interestingly, the primary sources of human-influenced emissions of nitrous oxide are agricultural soil management, animal manure management, sewage treatment, mobile and stationary fuel combustion, adipic acid production, and nitric acid production. Nitrous oxide is also emitted naturally from a wide variety of biological sources, like human sewage. I bring this up only because when I was in high school whippets were all the rage.

After I visited my patient, I went back up Seventh Avenue, but the whippets were gone. There were a few left scattered in the street but the majority had been picked up.


One Comment

  1. Janson
    Posted February 13, 2009 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Back in HS (1989) I worked at a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store. My co-workers and I would fight, nearly to the death, over the whip cream containers after closing for the gas. Good times.

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