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Friday, December 23, 2011

Santa’s doctor writes: My letter to the North Pole

Dear Santa,

Your lab tests came back, and your cholesterol ratios are out of line, again. As I mentioned in your physical, I’m concerned about some of your habits. For almost the entire year, you’re very inactive. Living as you do in a very isolated neighborhood in a very cold region, you don’t get out and about very much. That isolation can be very dangerous for a man of your age (or, indeed, of any age). Then in late December, you rouse yourself for a short period of supremely intense activity, logging many miles over rough terrain, and then wrestling heavy awkward bundles out of the sleigh, then climbing up icy roofs while lugging these countless loads, then forcing yourself down through narrow spaces, then hauling yourself back up, and on to the next place. For a man of your girth and your age, it’s simply too much.

I’ve explained all this at your last physical, as I do every year. I’m writing this letter out of frustration, since you never do what I say. I never hear that you’re taking the niacin I’ve suggested, or the statin I’ve prescribed, for your high cholesterol. I never see any evidence that you’ve lost weight.

To be fair, I do want to applaud you for the healthy habits you do follow. You’re exceedingly generous, and selfless, as you love giving things to people. Your belly laugh is a real gift to others, and to yourself, as it discharges a lot of the tension that might otherwise lead to high blood pressure. The affectionate attention you give to the young children brought to you by their parents is good for them, and for you. You have a definite mission in life, and you serve it diligently, which also helps. You haven’t seem to age much over the years, so it must be that these healthy habits have been giving you these long years of healthy life in your old age, counteracting the factors I mentioned earlier.

I’ve long wondered about your ruddy cheeks and nose. In many people, that’s a sign of heavy drinking: after many years of drinking, the capillaries in a person’s face rupture. But when I’ve asked, you’ve consistently denied that alcohol has been a problem for you, and I’m inclined to agree, as I’ve never heard, from you or anyone else, that your behavior has been inappropriate due to alcohol. Indeed, moderate drinking (one or two a day, for a large adult male) is a healthy behavior, so it seems that you’re OK there.

So, what is my wish for you for Christmas? Get out and about the other 11 months of the year; spread the cheer year-round. Get some more helpers, and don’t limit your deliveries of all that stuff to such a short period of time. And take the cholesterol meds!

Yes, I’ve said that before (every year, indeed) at your physical. So let’s also try something different, since that hasn’t had any effect: a shared medical appointment. I’d like to form a group you’ll feel comfortable with. I’m thinking of other altruistic people who do too much, neglecting their own health. There are lots of very driven, loving, compassionate doctors and nurses out there, for example, who are overweight and aren’t following the medical advice they know so well. I’d like to get you all together, and we’ll have some fun swapping stories. I’d like to get the group sharing some of the ways they stay healthy. They, and you, might learn from peers, and might find those ideas more compelling than following a doctor’s advice per se. That’s my wish for you.

For my own gift this Christmas, thanks, but I already have plenty of golf clubs. Give a gift for me to Heifer International, which gets farm animals to poor people around the world. Just mail them a check; don’t lug around any of their water buffaloes!

My best wishes for another year of health,

Your doctor.

Ken's Advice: As a stocking-stuffer for a parent, get Getting Your Best Health Care: Real-World Stories for Patient Empowerment.

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