Grrr. Let me start off by stating that I am not a plumber. I don't claim to be a plumber. I don't even play one on TV. I'm an electrician. I play with wires. I don't like pipes and I don't like working on anything that has the ability to flood the basement.
That said, a low-income friend of mine needed a water heater replaced, and stupid me agreed to it. "It's only four pipes and a thermostat wire. How hard can it be?!"
If somebody really wants to know, I'll explain how I wound up in my current situation, but I'd rather avoid the embarassment and just ask, simply, is the thermostat well isolated from the inside of the tank? ie, assuming I can't get the retainer bolt back in where it goes, if I devise another way to make sure the sensor bulb stays all the way up in there, but my new method isn't waterproof, will I wind up with water all over the floor?