More Bragging rights –

Let’s swap water for urine!

Jared J. Grantham M.D.

As nephrologists, we spend a large share of the waking day thinking
about urine. After all, that is what we do. We wonder about how urine is formed and what
to do when our patients no longer make it properly. That may be the secret to
compassionate medicine and good science, but urine has lousy public relations appeal.

Try this experiment the next time you are caught in a check-out
line. Ask the person standing next to you if they know what a nephrologist is and see how
many have a clue about what you do professionally. If you score more than 5 % you either
live in an unusually enlightened society or have taken your poll in a dialysis center.
Urine and kidneys have never had any curb-side appeal.

At least until recently.

Within the past year, urine has made it to the front pages of
reputable newspapers and to the programs of major television networks. “Urinetown.
The Musical” opened on Broadway in New York City in 2002 and has enjoyed sell-out
status since then. Winner of three Tony Awards in 2002 and now touring the United States,
this lively musical with the horrid title describes measures a town has taken to save
water during a dreadfully long shortage of rain. The residents have resorted to recycling
their urine and have given the contract for recapturing the water to the “Urine Good
Company”, which, of course, turns out to be a corrupt corporation. They make their
money by selling citizens access to the “amenities” where urine must be passed,
all while a scruffy attendant barks out one of the lead songs “It’s a privilege
to pee.” I never thought of it that way, but it is a privilege to pee and one we all
take for granted.

And now a recent notice in national newspapers reports that the city
of Sante Fe, New Mexico is sponsoring “The Trail of the Painted Potties” in an
effort to raise awareness of water conservation in the face of a long drought. Artisans
have been encouraged to decorate commodes, out-houses and the like to be judged in a Potty
Pagent this summer.

And with this good news I have a suggestion. Let’s take
advantage of the free public relations and change our orientation a bit away from urine to
the stuff that makes it happen in the first place — water. Water is pure, glistening,
sweet to the taste and pleasurable. No one will shun you for talking about water. Another
news item published in the Wall Street Journal last year pointed out that we willingly pay
billions of dollars a year around the globe just to drink ordinary clean water out of
plastic bottles. Bottled water is more expensive in some countries than petrol.

As you stand in that checkout line you can gently remind your unwary
prey that most of the sparkling water they drink will be eliminated from the body by the
kidneys, which are quite simply the most important vital organs in the body.

And so nephrologists of the world, get busy and link our
profession to water.
When you ask that person in the checkout line to tell
you what a nephrologist is, and they don’t know, explain that you are a physician or
a scientist who is concerned about how the body handles the water we drink., the purity of
the elixir and the good things that water brings to our lives. And if this new friendship
goes well, you might gently remind them that “It is a privilege to pee!”

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