Dr. Joseph Sirven: Ode To The Holidays

Published: Thursday, December 18, 2014 - 2:27pm
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Dr. Joseph Sirven
Dr. Joseph Sirven

“It’s the hap-happiest season of all” played, overhead while on my way to see my afternoon patients. Yet, in the sanctity of the exam room, Christmas carols gave way to, “Can you prescribe some Xanax to get me through this month?” or “How can I get through my in-laws lecturing me when I visit over Christmas?” Or my personal favorite, “Doctor, can you write a prescription excusing me from my holiday dinner?”

“Only if you write one for me,” I reply.

I get where my patients are coming from. Holidays can take a toll. Numerous studies have shown an unusually high spike in heart-related deaths occurring between late November and early January. Strokes, migraine headaches, epileptic seizures also surge.

Why do the holidays produce these conditions? Well, cold temperatures strain the heart. Moderation goes out the window with regards to drinking and eating, which increases “seasonal" heart and brain problems. Let’s not forget stress or depression which leads to anxiety which leads to sleep deprivation which then leads to drinking, creating an unholy Yule time cycle.   

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays, but my holidays have been memorable. Memorably good or memorably bad.

When they’re bad, it’s as though the three wise men brought me the gifts of confrontations, passive-aggressive behavior and indigestion. Luckily, being in healthcare has blessed me with the gift of perspective derived from juxtaposing my home life against the life in the hospital. You see, hospitals during the holidays are a powerful reminder that things could always be worse.

 My solution to dealing with the holidays is volunteering for holiday on-call duty — and I’m happy about it!

During this season, shift the pronoun from "I" and "me" to "he," "she" or "they" and their needs. Boy, does that help. And don’t expect the perfect holiday because, if you do, well, I guess I’ll be seeing you during my on-call shift.

Dr. Joseph Sirven is the Chairman of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic.

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