The Confessions of a Renal Tippler
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The Confessions of a Renal Tippler

David Eppel

When I studied wine tasting at a French university, little did I know that I would graduate as a “renal tippler.” The “sniff, sip, swirl and spit” technique, on which we worked in class, teaches the dialysis patient to enjoy but not necessarily swallow fluids.

The real pleasures of drinking—and of eating—come from the palate and not from the tummy (that’s why gourmets are said to have a “good palate”). Watch a professional wine or tea taster in action—they don’t swallow, they expectorate.

The spittoon in our classroom, in which the sampled wines were deposited—down the drain, rarely down the hatch—is also the ideal receptacle for a dialysis patient. Personal variations can include the kitchen sink, the toilet or even (surreptitiously) an empty glass on a restaurant table.

When I became ill, I continued, on my restricted fluid diet, to swirl fluids of all sorts around my palate, suck in a little air to enhance the flavor or aroma—and promptly spit them out.

Each part of the palate controls a different taste sensation—and that’s where the real enjoyment lies. Sweetness is at the tip of the tongue, bitterness at the back, sourness at the sides; saltiness is all over the surface. And there’s the added bonus of what the professionals call the “after taste,” which lingers in the mouth and develops a flavor of its own.

OK, so what about that satiated feeling from a swallowed drink? I get it in the early morning by drinking small cups of strong black tea (Indian Assam is a favorite), which slakes one’s thirst, contains theopyline, a wonderful natural stimulant, and is very satisfying. During the day I sip, swirl and spit unlimited quantities of chilled carbonated water and other effervescent (or flat) fluids that take my fancy.

The sense of enjoyment and repletion comes from the taste buds and the fizz, which is ingested, not the liquid, which isn’t. It’s not the real thing, but for a dialysis patient it can be as good as it gets.

Name: David Eppel
Address: Israel
Date: March 2005