Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day, Older Lovers, and Ionic Bonding: A Love Story

Image result for heart drawn in salt

      Another year, another exciting Valentine's Day . . . It's so enthralling to be the belle of one's medical school. [sarcasm font]

      Seriously, it's only the much older guys who think I'm cute, as in the geriatric hospital patients.  Maybe I should date them. A friend of mine briefly dated a guy who was in his early fifties but looked more like he was in his late sixties.  She's a total knockout. None of her friends could see what it was that she saw in him. Alas, the relationship didn't work out, unfortunately for him. She's now dating someone who looks like he stepped out of an ad for The Armoury or some similarly GQ place hawking men's clothing. I don't know if this relationship will last any longer than the previous one did, but at least the rest of us have someone nice to look at in the interim.

      I didn't get an actual Valentine, but I received one dozen pink long-stemmed roses. I bribed my friend into telling me from whom they came. A married doctor much older than I sent them anonymously. He wasn't trying to be creepy. Chances are that his wife knew about it, and they're not prospective polygamists. He just felt sorry for me because he knew no one else would send me flowers. He's a nice guy. If I were going into the OBGYN specialty I would probably want to work with him.

    Guys my age (actually there ARE no guys my age in my cohort except for Matthew; I think there are only two other guys in the whole medical school who are still twenty-two, and I don't think I want to date anyone who's a first-year med student, as they're still all about cadaver and poop jokes, so I'll substitute it with "my cohort mates") think I'm a complete geek. It's probably because I am.

    I have degrees in music performance, but my real degree (the one that counted if I were to be eligible for medical school) is in biochemistry. So since I'm the consummate geek, I shall talk a bit about biochem.

    Most of us had to take chemistry at least in high school, I would assume. Most of us, therefore, know about NaCl, otherwise known as sodium chloride, otherwise known as salt. Salt exists via a classic case of ionic bonding. A sodium ion has a positive charge. A chlorine ion has a negative charge. And we all know that opposites attract. (This is oddly appropriate for Valentine's Day.) And sodium is floating around with just one of its eleven electrons in its outer shell, and it really doesn't want that one outer electron, but the slut chlorine ion really does want that electron in the worst possible way. Anyway, the sodium ion sort of gives it to the chlorine ion, and, sort of like the Biblical concept of marriage, the two shall be as one. 

     And it's a bond that's a whole lot tighter than any marriage I've ever seen. If you have refined close vision (I don't and never did because of preemie issues, but I used to look at salt with a magnifying glass when I was little, and later under one of my dad's microscopes) and you've ever spent much time looking at salt as we know it, you know that it exists in the form of tiny cubes. If a person took a hammer and smashed the stuff, it would still be in cubes -- just tinier cubes. You can't smash it into anything other than salt in the form of tiny cubes no matter how hard you try. Even something like rock salt,which doesn't look like tiny cubes, will begin to look like cubes if you just take out your trusty hammer and start smashing it. And no matter how tiny the cube, you can probably make it into infinitely tinier cubes if you have a strong enough hammer and a sufficiently sophisticated microscope-like tool with which to view it.

     The melting point of sodium (a metal) is 208 degrees Fahrenheit, or 99.79 degrees Celsius. The melting point of chlorine is - 150.7 degrees Fahrenheit, or - 101.5 degrees Celsius (if that seems strange to you remember that it's a gas, and what makes it a gas is primarily the extremely low temperature it would require before becoming a solid). The melting point of NaCl, or sodium chloride, or salt, however, is 1,474 degrees Fahrenheit, or approximately 801 degrees Celsius. Considering that the average house fire is roughly 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, 1,474 degrees Fahrenheit is pretty damned hot. Basically, unless you have something really unusual inside your house that would cause it to burn especially hot, your entire house could burn down and your table salt would still be intact. The container holding it would be less than toast, but your salt would survive.  Pretty impressive, huh? Sodium and chlorine are far stronger once ionically bonded than they were previously. No court  nor religious institution on Earth can separate the bond they have formed without at least 1,474 degrees Fahrenheit to back up its authority. Whatsoever ionic bonding hath joined together, let no man put asunder. 

     Perhaps I should have forgone medical school and put my biochem degree to quicker use by manufacturing something like meth. I probably would have made a lot more money a hell of a lot faster, but that's really not my way of doing things. I'm much too far into the process of learning to remove appendixes, repair hernias,  and un-twist colons of small children to re-think my career options now.

     And, on an only marginally related note, salt cannot lose its savor. You know that passage in Matthew 5 where Jesus said, "Ye are the salt of the Earth. But if the salt hath lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?" or something like that?
Jesus apparently didn't study very much chemistry. There's really nothing that can happen to salt (other than heating it up to beyond 1474 degrees Fahrenheit, perhaps) to make it not be salty. My mom, who has greater faith than I, said that perhaps Jesus was talking about foods with naturally salty flavors or something different than NaCl. At any rate, we'll give Jesus a pass on this. He had bigger fish to fry than memorizing the chemical properties of salt.
     Many people say true love doesn't exist anymore. Some say it never did. They should try telling that to sodium and chlorine.

     Happy Valentine's Day.      

I do not own this video, which is actually just an audio with a still shot, but all the other videos at YouTube with Noel Paul Stookey singing the song were recorded too late in his career, and he had to sing the song in a lower key, and the song doesn't sound right in a lower key. Anyway, if you substitute "sodium" for wherever Noel Paul says "man" and "chlorine" for wherever he says "woman," the song sort of fits this blog -- if you're on drugs, anyway.


  1. Don't sweat it. I customarily wore black on Valentine's Day for years because I never had a Valentine. Now I get the royal treatment every February. ;)

  2. While not on too many drugs at the moment the song works for me. While I studied chemistry in high school and a little in college, it didn't always make sense until I studied it years later while working on a degree in lab science. The practical applications gave it real meaning and it was like a light bulb went on in my head. All the stuff I had "learned" before came together with real meaning.
    My father was a textile chemist and it all came to him quite easily.