The Month of Medical Madness

“Insanity is often the logic of an accurate mind over tasked.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

The Holiday Season brings a craziness to all of our lives, but, specifically, the primary care medicine scene degenerates into madness each year. I feel there are three basic reasons, and, you, as the consumer/patient need to understand these and make choices accordingly.

First, by the month of December, “everybody” has met deductibles! Consequently, there is an intense craving among patients to “do everything” before the calendar year ends and deductibles start all over again. Second, people are overly stressed, overly busy, and overly committed during this season. As a result, most patients have “no time to be sick.” There is an urgency in each phone call and each office visit. At the front desk, the number of phone calls alone escalates dramatically; patients want relief and cures, and they want them now! The philosophy “No one should be sick during the Holidays!” almost becomes a mantra. And both patients and their health care providers suffer from this misconception of ‘The Holiday Right to Good Health’.

Third, and finally, with the increased stress and the recycled germs, there really are a large number of individuals in the community who do succumb to colds, sore throats, bronchitis, and even worse infirmities each December. The burdens of increased hours at work and additional responsibilities in leisure time create more illness. Immune systems weaken, and mental health is taxed. Is it any wonder that people become sick, REALLY SICK, in such an environment?

So, understanding the above factors, what can you do individually and pragmatically to diminish medical madness in December? 1) If you have any routine follow-up appointments, do not schedule them in December. You will avoid the long waits which are inevitable and allow acutely sick patients a spot on the schedule. 2) If you routinelymeet your deductible each year, schedule your appointments for extensive evaluations in January or February. . .rather than December. Your physician will thank you. . .and I suspect you’ll get more undivided attention during those months as well. If this year has been an exception. . . because you almost never meet your deductible, then by all means, fight for your appointment in December! 3) Understand that cold and stressful winter months bring illness to many, and try to be patient as you wait your turn for the treatment room. . .or even a call back from the doctor’s office. I know that I do my best as a physician to stay on time and assess urgencies appropriately on a daily basis. But Decembers seem to thwart my best intentions with regularity, and I suspect I am no exception in the health provider universe.

Finally, remember to pace yourself generally during this month of increased calorie consumption and increased demands on your mental and physical energies. Greater efforts at self-care this month should reward you with fewer needs for your physician’s services. The collective insanity of the Holidays has become perennial. “Madness is something rare in individuals–but in groups, parties, peoples, ages it is the rule.” Friedrich NietzscheSo, schedule, prioritize, and exercise. . .and you might just avoid one of the long lines this December–the one to your doctor’s office! Remember, the greatest gift you can give yourself this season is good health as you transition from one year to the next.

Stephen L. Hines, M.D.
December 2000