Schrodenger’s First Aid Kit


Minerva jumped back in her seat and stared in horror at the YouTube video. She’d expected a bit of a bang and a puff of smoke, not the vigorous explosion she’d just seen. She looked over the article again. “Used as a burn treatment” — who the hell used something that could become explosive as a burn treatment? “Found in Boy Scout first aid kit…” Well, at least they didn’t have any Scout first aid kits at the museum. 

Minerva went back to perusing the new emails from the Collections mailing list. She sat bolt up with an unpleasant thought; tabbed over to Google and typed in, ‘WWII first aid kits picric acid.’ 

“Oh crap.”  

Picric acid in liquid form was fine. Picric acid that had evaporated even partially was highly explosive, friction and shock sensitive. It was used in some, but not all WWII military first aid kits. 

“What is it?” asked Tilly. 

Minerva looked over at her intern. “We’ve got to go open a bunch of first aid kits.”  


Minerva took a deep breath and slid the last first aid kit off the shelf. Four other kits had been checked and cleared. None had contained picric acid burn compresses. One had even been empty. Minerva’s gloved hands stuck to the metal as she tried to readjust her grip without tilting the box. 

“It’s sticky,” Minerva said. 

“Why?” asked Tilly. 

“Don’t know. Smells like iodine.” 

Minerva lowered the metal box to a table, keeping it level and setting it down very gingerly. Her hands peeled away covered in a sticky black liquid. She un-did the metal latches, wincing as the box jostled with each movement. She tried the lid. It didn’t budge. 

Tilly had backed up a step with each movement Minerva made with the box. 

Minerva took a deep breath and looked to her intern, now in the doorway to the room. “I want you to go downstairs and look up this item in the catalog. See if there’s any additional information.” 

Tilly didn’t need to be told twice. She was down the stairs and out of the blast radius within seconds. 

Minerva pulled out her keys and tried to carefully leverage the sticky box open. The rubber seal schlurped as it was parted from the metal lid. 

Minerva really hated rubber gaskets. 

She raised the lid enough to get her fingers under and wrench it open. The small paper boxes inside were soaked with various liquids, one of which was odorously iodine. The vials of smelling salts had also broken soaking into several adjacent boxes of gauze pads. She scanned for the “Burn Treatment” box and squinted at the chemical description underneath, obscured by yellow crystals. 

Minerva used one gloved finger to wipe away crystals away from the letters, dragging unstable crystals of picric acid along the paper, like striking a match. 

It was a closed casket funeral.