Triumph of the glue scientists

March 12, 2007

I hope I don’t gross anyone out by saying this, but nearly three weeks after my surgery I am still finding little patches of tape adhesive stuck to my body.

It’s not that surprising, I guess, considering that I had lots of things taped to me in the hospital: IVs, the central line (an IV in the neck), bandages, whatever. What does surprise me is the tenacity of this stuff.

Daily showers make no difference whatsoever. To remove the adhesive, you must hunt down each patch and determinedly rub it off. If you miss a spot, it patiently waits for another day.

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by Super Glue for two reasons. First of course was their old commercial in which a construction worker flailed his limbs in the air, hanging from his hardhat which had been Super Glued to a girder (now that I think about it, hanging from your hat sounds awfully uncomfortable). The other reason was the cautious but slightly boastful warning that appeared on the tiny tube: “Bonds skin instantly.” Holy crap! What did you do if your skin was instantly bonded? My kid mind reeled.

The answer lies in what I have recently concluded is the commercial brilliance of the glue industry: there was some mysterious substance for sale which counteracted and loosened the impossibly-strong grip of Super Glue. The Anti-Super Glue. The Kryptonite to Superman’s Super Glue.

Similarly, there are weapons against the skin adhesive that haunts me. Rubbing alcohol does okay, but the hospital sent me home with a few packets of moistened wipes that are designed specifically to remove adhesive from skin. Smelling of citrus, they did their job, but only combined with a lot of manual labor.

In James Bond, Pink Panther and Tom Cruise movies, the villain’s evil plan often boils down to this: they will unleash a Deadly Something on society (disease, chemical weapon, ennui), and then, after proving their power, they will produce the Antidote and make billions of dollars. I’ve come to realize that the glue industry does exactly the same thing. They bond our fingers together in painful pairings, or they leave uncountable, hidden patches of sticky adhesive residue on our skin, and then they sell us some other product which undoes it all. It’s the pinnacle of brilliant marketing: mass consumerized blackmail. Big Glue, I salute you.


5 Responses to “Triumph of the glue scientists”

  1. Ryan Kennedy Says:

    The citrus smell in the wipes is likely limonene. It’s a solvent that you can distill out of the rind of citrus fruit (in my organic chemistry class, we distilled it from orange peels).

  2. Steve Rathmann Says:


    Urban legend has had me believe for some time now that it was developed specifically to bond skin to be used as a field dressing on the battlefields of Vietnam. Seems plausible, after all, many (most) cool new technologies come from military purposes originally. Realizing that I’d only ever heard of this anecdotally I figured I’d “check the wiki”. Surprisingly it was developed for a DIFFERENT military purpose which failed because the stuff was so sticky. Nevertheless it WAS used by medics in Vietnam and in so doing kept many a 19-year-old from bleeding to death.

    It’s also the stuff sometime used to reveal fingerprints as it reacts with the oils and residues left on doorknobs, chairs, tables, chainsaws, and woochippers.

    Cyanoacrylate once glued my mom’s fingers together while she was helping me build a model airplane. I’m not sure who was more terrified, but after the ordeal of a half an hour of warm water and acetone we both emerged from the experience a little wiser. And it strengthened the mother/son, um,…bond.

  3. Probably so, and I’m glad it wasn’t harsher stuff than that.

    Funny, I took organic chemistry too. We purified caffeine into a white powder. It’s a bit odd to see it in that form.

  4. Woodchippers? I think I saw that movie.

  5. Debbie Says:

    I tried to use Goo Gone on him, but he read the label and was, for some unknown reason, opposed to rubbing various petroleum distillates on his skin. But it has the same nice orange smell!

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