A Science Guy’s Almanac #25. Year 2. May 30, 2016
Catheters, Pus, and Buttermilk: Three terms you don’t want in the same sentence!
It's Memorial Day.
Thank a veteran for her/his service.
I had to stay in the hospital after my spinal fusion for eight days. They would have discharged me earlier, but I developed a low-grade fever and wanted to make sure it didn’t spike before they turned me loose.
I got home. Things went well… for a short time.
Either the second or third day at home, I needed to tinkle. I carefully pushed off the arms of the chair in which I was seated and negotiated to the bathroom. What came out was not pure urine.
A stream of pus and urine cascaded into the toilet. It burned as it exited. I called my mom.
I suspect that mothers would do whatever necessary for their children, even if they had to read the giant list of probable events they might experience before they delivered. But, this was one of those times that I was glad she hadn’t seen the list!
Mom came in, quickly diagnosed a urinary tract infection, probably the result of the catheterization early in my hospital stay. She called our family doctor. He gave her the name of the urologist he recommended. We went to the urologist the next morning after several more burning man experiences.
By the time we got to the urologist’s office, there was a steady burn in my bladder. Urinating spread the burn. It was uncomfortable sitting, standing, and lying down. Get the picture?
The urologist was a female.
I’m just gonna let that sentence hang there.
After a brief—thank goodness—examination, she prescribed an antibiotic. Before she left, she added a non-prescription compound to my treatment regimen.
“You should stop by the market on the way home and buy some yogurt or buttermilk. You should be eating or drinking that two or three times each day until the antibiotics are gone.”
I had my first taste of yogurt at UCSD before my surgery. I was starving one day. All I had was a quarter. The only item at the satellite cafeteria I could afford was a container of yogurt. Plain yogurt. Vintage 1968 plain yogurt. There was no way I was going to eat yogurt two or three times every day.
On television at this time was a commercial for Knudsen Real Churned Buttermilk. In the commercial, a frontier couple was featured. The man was cutting firewood. It was a hot day. He was shirtless and sweating profusely. He mopped his brow periodically with a towel. It was obvious that he was suffering greatly.
The woman was seated on the porch of the cabin in which they lived. She was churning butter. Not a drop of perspiration could be seen. See example below.
Just when the viewer was certain that the woodcutter was about to black out from dehydration and exertion, the butter-churner left the porch. She carried a BIG class of buttermilk to the man. The man stopped working. He chugged the entire glass of buttermilk. Within seconds he was back splitting logs with renewed strength and a huge smile on his face.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
My mom and I left the office. As we neared home, I informed my mom of my choice for the non-prescription compound.
“Don’t forget we need to get buttermilk.”
“Are you sure?” Mom asked. She had a kind of grimace as she asked.
“You bet!” I related the backstories above to her.
The term antibiotic means “against life.” Antibiotics kill bacteria. Unfortunately, antibiotics kill all bacteria they come in contact with.
“Well, that’s good,” you might be thinking. If you are, you’re wrong.
I suspect you’ve heard of Escherichia coli. It’s usually referred to as E. coli in the media. E. coli is a species of bacteria. If all you know about E. coli is what you’ve read in the paper or seen online, there’s a good chance you think it’s a deadly killer. And, you’d be right.
But, you’d also be very, very wrong.
E. coli occur naturally in your large intestine. Their job is to help for your fecal material into a solid mass. Without E. coli, you’d have a continuous case of… diarrhea.
Before you panic, the inside of your intestine is outside your body. If it wasn’t, your own immune system would attack E. coli. And you’d have a continuous case of… diarrhea. Think of the situation as a tunnel through a mountain. Your intestine is the tunnel. Your body is the mountain.
Whether you know it or not, you know that E. coli are not inside your body. First, you don’t have a continuous case of… diarrhea. Second, if your appendix ruptures, the contents of your large intestine are released into your body cavity. The result of this dump of waste and bacteria into what was a sterile cavity is a serious infection.
I was unaware of the importance of E. coli at the time of the buttermilk purchase. When I started taking the antibiotics, my own E. coli were killed. Both yogurt and buttermilk have non-E. coli replacement bacteria in them. And, that’s why the urologist recommended the consumption of one or the other.
“Make sure it’s Knudsen buttermilk,” I called after my mom as she went into Valley Farm Market—see the penultimate Almanac post for a reference to it and the Wienermobile. She came out with a quart of what I was certain was the nectar of the gods. I don’t remember if was Knudsen, but I suspect it was.
We picked up the prescription at Valley Pharmacy—see the last Almanac post for more on that entity. Minutes later we pulled into our driveway.
I rushed into the kitchen and grabbed a big glass.
I pulled the carton of buttermilk open.
It smelled terrible!
“Whoa, Mom! You’ve got to take this back,” I said while fanning my nose. “It smells rotten!”
Mom came over and took a whiff.
“Smells just like buttermilk,” she said.
I wonder how that woodcutter in the commercial could stand this smell, I thought. But, he loved it. It must taste really good.
I began pouring the elixir into my glass.
Glorp. Glug. Plop!
Hunks of something cascaded into my glass along with the liquid.
“Mom! Hunks of crud are coming out of the carton. This batch has to be bad!”
Mom returned. She looked down into the glass.
“Looks just like buttermilk,” she reported.
You’ve got to be kidding me. The woodcutter must be blind in addition to having no sense of smell. Still, it did wonders for him.
I began to chug the buttermilk.
“Ackk! Hack! Mom! This stuff tastes evil!” I managed to gag out as I let the small amount that hadn’t been swallowed drool out of my mouth. “Eh haa to be baa!”
Mom dipped one index finger into the now half-full glass. She put a very small amount on her tongue.
“Tastes just like buttermilk.”
For the next ten days, I drank—AKA gagged down—a pint of buttermilk daily.
But, I gargled with Pepsi Cola after each session. That’s the only way I could get the taste out of my mouth.
Next Almanac post: I haven’t decided yet. Y’all—or all y’all—come back and find out!
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