Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Sorcerer's Kidney Stone

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for January, "Kentucky," tells the touching story of a journey home at the end of one's life. Traveling great distances to die at home is common to both Kentuckians and salmon. Here are some other similarities: 1. Often raised on farms.  2. Bite anything shiny.

There's Talent, Oh Yes, and a Thirst to Prove Yourself. But Where Shall I Put You?
There was a lab section during the renal pathophysiology course in medical school that had achieved quite a bit of notoriety. We heard rumors from the class ahead of us, rumors which filled us with wonder and fear. The students, they told us, would be divided into four groups: beer, Pepsi, water, and broth. We would be obligated to drink as much of the assigned beverage as we could endure, collect our urine, and run tests on it. Through this, we would learn about how the human kidney handles alcohol, caffeine, and salt.

Also, we would get to see what our classmates' pee looked like, so there was that.

When we got to the renal unit, the lab instructor read off our libation assignments. He used carefully placed pregnant pauses, ushering our anticipation to a fever pitch.

Jason Baker... Beer!
Peggy Berdelman... Water!

Jason and Peggy pumped their fists and ran over to their lab benches where their new beverage buddies waited with cheers and high fives.

Zach London....

I had recently read the first Harry Potter book, so I tried influencing the outcome the way Harry would have. I closed my eyes tightly and concentrated. Not broth, not broth.

   Are you sure? You could do great with broth. It's all there in your kidneys, and broth could help you on the way to greatness... there's no doubt about that.

Not broth, anything but broth.

   Okay, if you're sure, better be... BROTH!

The real Hogwarts Sorting Hat wasn't a jackass, but I wasn't so lucky. And so, for an entire afternoon, my six comrades and I guzzled cup after briny cup of room temperature beef bouillon. We were soon nauseated, our mouths were tacky, and our bladders were bursting with all sorts of unnatural electrolytes, but we soldiered on. When the need arose, we excused ourselves, filled up our flasks, brought them back and emptied them into a giant communal beaker reserved for broth urinators.

The short walk from the men's room to the lab was particularly humiliating.  Acquaintances passing in the other direction kept surreptitiously checking out my Erlenmeyer, probably taking note of my color, volume, turbidity, and specific gravity. They were judging me. On exactly what basis I didn't know, but I could tell by their deriding glances that something about my urine was not cool. I had the urge to stop each of them and say, "It's all the powdered meat I've been drinking, dude! That's why the pH is so low. I swear it's not usually like this!"

But the beer group, wow. They didn't seem the least bit self-conscious about any of this. They were an animated circle of good-looking, racially diverse 20-somethings clinking High Life bottles together, enjoying life and doing plenty of what beer drinkers do best... pissing a whole lot.  Other than that last part, they could have been a Miller commercial. They waved their flasks around confidently, as if each of them had brewed a unique single malt, and when they proudly pooled their efforts in the giant volumetric beaker they had concocted a fine blended whiskey.

Then there was the Pepsi group. They were energized, focused, and completed their work quickly and accurately. Encouraged by their success that day, many of them would go on to become nephrologists.

There was no swagger in the broth group, though. We couldn't even look at each other. I quietly trudged through the urinalysis, occasionally rubbing my eyes to wipe away the thin film beef stock that had begun to coat them. In the end, the tests confirmed what I had feared... my bladder was an environment conducive to raising saltwater fish.

The seven of us never spoke of that day to each other again, and ever since, I cringe a little when a waitress asks me if I want soup with my entree.

No, salad, please. Definitely salad.

With warmest regards,