Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Ancient Art of Urine Tasting Revisited

Continuing with another story of my veterinary related practical jokes, this one was pulled on a veterinary technician student who was interning at our hospital one summer.

Before I delve into the details of the "joke" I need to provide you with some medical background. In ancient times, diagnosis of disease problems could be accomplished through the art of "urine tasting." By actually tasting urine, one could get an idea of what condition a person was suffering from. That is also why in those days they probably did not have a whole lot of people applying to medical school to become doctors! This practice is represented in the names of  two forms of diabetes, diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus. The diabetes most people (and pets) suffer from is diabetes mellitus, characterized by increased sugar in the urine....hence the word mellitus referring to sweet, the sweet taste of the urine due to the sugar content. Diabetes insipidus is caused by a hormonal problem where the body cannot reabsorb the water filtered by the kidney. It is a problem with the anti-diuretic hormone which is what prevents excessive urination. In diabetes insipidus, there is a problem with this hormone so it is not functioning like it should, so you have diuresis or excessive urination with resultant excess drinking...called polyuria (excess urination) / polydipsia (excess thirst). For a another fun fact, when imbibing with alcohol, the antidiuretic hormone is suppressed so there is a resultant increased need to urinate....and then a need to restore the fluids. Nonetheless, as there is excessive urine production, the urine is very dilute or insipid (tasteless). Whew, now that we have the long physiological description out of the way we can now talk about the poor trick I pulled on this impressionable veterinary technician student.

The Urine Prank
We frequently have student interns/externs at the practice which may spend a few weeks/days or even most of the summer at our practice. One summer, several years back, we had a veterinary technician student from Parkland College in Champaign (which has an excellent two year program for veterinary technicians leading to certification....we have a link to the Parkland program as well as other excellent programs on our website, under links) and she was just finished up the final week of her externship. As the veterinary technicians learn to do laboratory work, she had spent a great deal of time working in our in house laboratory.

She enjoyed making diagnoses through the lab work. One thing she did quite often was performing urine analyses in order to detect certain disease conditions. Initially, the urine is placed into a centrifuge to settle out any cells or debris to the bottom of the test tube. There are several parts to a urinalysis, the separated liquid is examined for its appearance, concentration and a special "dipstick" is placed into the urine. On this dipstick are several different pads which change colors when certain elements are present in the urine including glucose, bile, blood, ketones and others. Then the sediment from the bottom of the test tube is placed on a slide, stained,  and checked for white blood cells, red blood cells, crystals, abnormal cells and other things.

She had been telling me the last few weeks of her externship that she had not diagnosed a case of diabetes with a urinalysis since she had been at the our hospital. She was hoping to make that diagnosis before she went back to school. Well.......not being one to disappoint a dedicated student I hatched a plan in my fertile mind.

I got some apple juice from the store one night and brought it in the following day. I created a phony record and poured the "urine" into one of our containers where we place urine samples. I brought the sample to her in the lab and told her we had a dog that was drinking and urinating excessively as well as losing weight, which were potential signs of diabetes mellitus. She eagerly took a portion of the sample, spun it down in the centrifuge, poured off the spun down urine and placed a dipstick in the urine. She suddenly became very animated and excited. She was saying she finally found a case of diabetes. I asked her why and she said that this urine sample is loaded with glucose, excitedly showing me the dipstick with the glucose pad very darkened, indicating a large amount of glucose present in the sample. I then told her that I was glad she had finally achieved her  goal......but then, my devious plan continued.

I picked up the container with the excess "urine" in it and "carefully" examined it. I then said very thoughtfully, "You know, in ancient Egypt there used to be urine tasters who could diagnose diseases by tasting urine. Because diabetes mellitus refers to sweet...I wonder...." I put the container to my lips and I drank the "urine" and I said " That is right, it is sweet." I looked over at the student whose mouth was agape and had a look of absolute horror on her face. I then said, "Tastes pretty good, too." Her eyes were bugging out by this time, but our staff members (who were in on this) could not hold it in any more and burst out laughing, telling her that I had tricked her with apple juice. She then placed  her hand over her chest and was taking some deep breaths as she said that she was so flabbergasted that it seemed like I had actually drank urine.

Fortunately, this experience did not scar this poor student who went on to become a certified veterinary technician who is still in the field. Whenever I see her she begins to smile and shake her head saying she will never forget that experience.

One other post script. When you are a wise guy / practical joker you always have to be sure that the tables are not turned on you. I NEVER let that "urine" container out of my sight....I remained in the lab as this joke was taking place. With our staff I knew if they had the chance they would have replaced the apple juice with the real thing if I was not careful.

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