This was sent to me a while ago and was a newspaper article written by my ungrad advisor's brother.
Would doctors today be so observant? C Josh Young 2004
My dad went to Harvard Medical School when its faculty was a Who's Who of the most famous doctors and medical scientists in America. Although from a poor family, by dint of hard work and a keen mind, my father graduated in the top half of a class dominated by graduates of fancy prep schools and the country's most prestigious universities. One story he liked to tell was about his last lab class at Harvard. Spring was in the air, and the students were excited to be moving on. Most had already received their next assignments as interns at hospitals around the country.
The students filed into the laboratory, but were disappointed to see the hard nosed professor had still more work for them. Other professors had yielded to the inevitable, and either dismissed classes early that day, or allowed the students to spend their final hour reminiscing. It should have come as little wonder, however, that their toughest professor still wouldn't let up.
There were warm and fragrant breezes outside, but in the chilly, tiled lab, a tepid yellow specimen sat waiting at each lab station. What possible tests could they run on urine, that they hadn't performed a hundred times before, they wondered.
"Gentlemen," the crusty old prof. began with his usual formality, "as you know, this will be your final laboratory class at Harvard. Today is my last chance to improve your feeble minds and give some hope to the poor patients you will one day serve." The students eyed each other, as if daring one another to make some smart remark, but in those days faculty members tolerated no dissent, and a wisecrack might be grounds enough to fail the course. You could have heard a pin drop.
"If I have taught you anything this semester," the ancient professor droned on, "I hope it is the paramount importance of observation. It is central to your future work as physicians, and without it, the best medicines will be useless in your hands.
"Observation has been a part of medicine since the time of Hippocrates, and it will be a part of medicine when you are all long gone," the professor predicted.
"Today, as proof of the lasting validity of one's powers of observation, we will discuss the classic test for diabetes," he continued ominously.
At this, some of the better informed students became noticeably
"For generations, indeed, for centuries, before science devised the modern tests for diabetes, which you have learned and practiced all year, the only way healers could assess imbalances of blood sugars was by tasting the patient's urine."
At the risk of drawing the professor's wrath, a few involuntary murmurs could be heard.
"Yes, Gentlemen, back then, a healer would have to taste a patient's urine, and determine by taste and smell what treatment was indicated." Outright groans went up as the professor deliberately dipped his finger in the beaker before him, swirling it around a bit for effect. He then raised his hand to his lips, gave a tentative lick, smiled, and licked again.
As if tasting a wine to judge its age and origin, the professor gave a quizzical look, and then spewed out voluminous facts about the relative tastes of urine. The students frantically scribbled notes. If the urine was sweet, it meant this; a bitter flavor indicated that; a strong salty taste, in the absence of sweetness, meant a quite different diagnosis was in order.
Then, finally, came the moment of truth.
Raising his beaker of urine, as if in a toast to the future graduates, the professor instructed his students to proceed.
"Tut, tut, now. Overcome your petty aversions, Gentlemen, and do as I just demonstrated, so you can test your powers of observation. Fresh urine is sterile, after all, and none of you will consume enough toxins to make you sick."
One by one the students proceeded with the experiment, some grimacing, others making an effort to show no emotion at all. A few strangely smiled.
"Now, Gentlemen," the professor finally continued, when he was satisfied each of them had dipped and licked, "those of you who are truly observant, will have noticed that, while I dipped my index finger into the urine in the beaker before me, it was actually a different finger which I licked.
"Thank you, Gentlemen. Class dismissed!"