P is for Physician

I have to say that even though women did most of the hands on and practical work in healing, Tudor physicians doubtlessly earned their salary. Not only were they excellent astrologers and very competent herbalists, they are also the guys who had to examine, smell, and taste the patient’s urine in order to make a diagnosis. Note the awesome urine diagnostic wheel the docs had to use:

Urine flavor wheels helped doctors diagnose patients' pee centuries ago

The former medical obsession with urine wasn’t always as useless as the modern mind would imagine. There were indeed diseases that could be accurately diagnosed from the condition of (as it is euphemistically called by many people) pee-pee.  For example, purple or blue urine indicated (and still indicates) porphyria. The urine of patients with diabetes mellitus has a sweet taste, due to the sugar in their excreta. Unfortunately, this was sometimes a death sentence for the patient since there was no way to treat Type I diabetes until 1922, and even then the illness was likely to cause a radically shortened lifespan until very recently. Jaundice would not only turn a patient a yellowish color it would also turn the individual’s pee dark orange or even red. The treatment for jaundice was often ineffective in and of itself, since it consisted of instructions to “boyle a quart of sweet Milke, dissolve therein as much bay-salt or fine Saltpeter, as shall make it brackish in taste and putting Saffron in a fine linen clout, rubb it into the Milke, until the Milke be very yellow; and give it the patient to drink.”

As crazy as urosocpy appears to us today, it HAS had at least one lasting effect on medical science. I am sure you have seen, in popular media images of science labs if nothing else, the distinctive Erlenmeyer flask pictured below:

Well, they are shaped that way because they are modeled on the specialized glass beakers that were made for urine analysis. The shape simply became traditional for medical and generalized lab equipment after a while.

Coincidently, my father is a doctor, and he just got off an ER shift today. He’s very tired and gets very irritated with people coming in to the hospital to try to con physicians out of narcotics for false pain at 3:00 AM, but I am going to remind him he wasn’t required to swish and spit urine, which should perk him up no end. I am a very helpful daughter that way.

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