Incidentally, the letter in question was signed "A. D. Hard, M.D.," because the forces of the universe occasionally collide in extremely happy accidents.
Doctors Would Make Diagnoses By Drinking A Patient's Pee
Csaba Deli/iStock/Getty Images
Prior to the last century, physicians had to rely solely on their physical senses to make diagnoses, because advanced medical machinery like MRIs and X-rays were still decades away from invention, and anyway using any of those things around a bunch of flat-Earthers would've probably gotten you burned alive as a warlock. So, old-timey doctors had a limited bag of instruments to determine what the hell was wrong with their patients -- basically, the problem had to be something they could see, hear, smell, touch, or taste.
That's right. Taste. And what better way to get a sense of a patient's internal health than by drinking their pee?
Hans von Gersdorff
"I can think of no downside to what I am about to do."
Based on the observation that ants were irresistibly drawn to the urine of diabetics, ancient purveyors of the bodily arts came to the insane yet undeniably reasonable conclusion that the urine was probably sweet. And since ants cannot be trained as physician's assistants, this meant only one thing: pee tasting. Possibly the first to full-on rave about this fact was English physician Thomas Willis, who in 1674 noted that a diabetic patient's fresh-squeezed jimmy juice was "wonderfully sweet, as if it were imbued with honey or sugar."
But as any wine connoisseur will exhaustively inform you, you can't fully take in all a beverage has to offer without also considering aspects such as its bouquet, color, and cloudiness, so doctors developed a urine wheel to assist in pee-tasting diagnoses:
Most of these colors would be cause for alarm, taste be damned.
By documenting the full range of liquid human excrement on handy color wheels, doctors could determine at a glance (and a sniff and a swallow) whether a patient needed to cut down on sweets, double down on his mercury intake, or make his peace with God after his recent lithotomy. Luckily for every doctor who resented having to drink flasks of angry, diseased pee, the advent of chemical analysis by the late 19th century ushered in a whole new era of waste examination, transforming urine wheels into blown tires discarded by the side of the freeway of medical progress. The industry-wide savings in breath mints alone must have been staggering.
Talia is a third-year student at Emory University studying neuroscience and creative writing. You can catch her procrastinating on Twitter or blogging about video games, art, and lesser things.
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