I was doing the rounds at a nursing home out in the sticks the other day, and came to an old (all of them were old) woman with a urinary catheter and bag. Her problem, or rather her worry, was that the bag turned violet from the urine sometimes, but only the last week. The urine itself didn’t change color, only the plastic of the bag.
I already knew that some laxatives can cause the urine itself to turn violet if it’s alkaline, and I’ve heard of this phenomenon of the plastic becoming discolored, but as far as I remembered, it wasn’t alarming, so I just made the regular soothing doctor noises. But the nurse persisted, said she’d heard it could indicate urinary tract infections.
So I pulled out my iPhone, opened Safari, and googled “violet urine bag” and lo and behold, there’s an article about the “Violet urine bag syndrome” from Osaka University, explaining how this happens in some urinary tract infections. Other similar articles taught me which bacteria are usually involved and when to look out for it.
I happily explained this to the nurse and told her she was right and I was wrong. Then the patient said to the nurse: “Amazing how they can get so much knowledge into such a small package” and they both looked with wonder and amazement at my iPhone. I was on the verge of explaining it wasn’t in the phone but on the ‘net, but then I thought: what’s the difference, really? Isn’t that just a technical detail? So I just nodded and said “yes, indeed”.