Your Health 
By Michael Warren

 I once played Santa Claus, which is hard to believe, especially if you know me. The physique is about right, but I don’t have a beard, I’m not overly jolly and I’m Jewish. Nevertheless, I was Santa.

I visited every patient in the hospital, giving them small presents, with a “ho ho ho” and a “Merry Christmas.” And you want to know something? It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The reaction of the patients was extremely touching.

For patients who must stay in the hospital during the holidays, the season can be depressing.

What can you do to help? Well, you too can play Santa Claus by donating gifts or time to your local hospital volunteer office. You can take a few minutes to visit a friend or loved one in the hospital. Be generous with your time.

There are some benefits for patients who spend the holidays in the hospital. If you are seeking peace and quiet, perhaps you should consider having your elective surgery around Christmas.

Since there are fewer patients, you stand a better chance of having more personal care. If you would like a certain surgeon or physician, however, plan ahead. Your doctor might have scheduled time off.

Ensuring that patients get excellent health care during the holidays requires a dependable and unselfish staff that would rather be home. If you have family members who must work at Christmas, plan gift exchanges around their schedule, or give them a basket of goodies to take to the hospital.

The sad fact is most patients who must remain hospitalized at this time of year are the sickest: Chronically ill, accident victims, burns patients and others requiring careful monitoring.

The most heartbreaking of all are children. Most children’s care units take special pains to ensure children don’t miss Christmas. Parties, presents, visits from Santa and carolers often are included.

You don’t even have to rent a Santa suit to help make Christmas a happier time. It can be simple things. A phone call to say, “I love you,” a basket of (physician-approved) homemade baked goods, a miniature artificial tree near the bedside, a poinsettia plant and, most of all, you.

Visit them. Be there, and give your time or money to help those you don’t know. That’s what it’s all about. That’s the spirit of Christmas.

Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith professor of surgery in the division of urology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.