The spirit of Santa Claus in medicine

For longer than anyone could remember, he was the rural community’s pharmacist.  A skilled compounder of prescriptions, he was conversant in chocolates, greeting cards, and how to obviate a trip to the doctor’s office by using an over-the-counter remedy.

A devoted family man, he was involved in many civic and church activities. Most have forgotten all the roles he once played in the community, but no one will ever forget that he was Santa Claus.

Every Christmas Eve, the town’s children would flock to the church hall to sit on his lap and exchange wish lists for candy canes. Every year, at least one imp would tug on his fake beard and publicly proclaim, “You ain’t Santa Claus — you’re Buzz from the drug store!”

Like Clark Kent and Don Diego de la Vega, he allowed his everyday existence to mesh with that of his alter ego. His name was Buzz, and he worked in a drug store — but he was also Santa Claus.

Buzz was a wise old elf who realized it took more than one day a year to complete Santa’s work. Accordingly, he was always available to provide doctors with medications for late night or weekend emergencies, dispense free pharmacology lessons with the prescriptions he filled and even refer patients to doctors who stocked samples of medications the patients needed but couldn’t afford.

He also realized Santa’s work was too much for any one man, and a number of chronic illnesses would ultimately force him to relinquish Santa’s chair. With this in mind, he taught others his skills to ensure the sick would always have cures, the needy would always have friends and children of all ages would always have Santa Claus.

Today, pharmacists he helped train are continuing his charitable practices, corpulent men with real white beards are competing for the chance to carry on holiday traditions he helped establish and others who remember his gentle kindness are extending the spirit of giving from a season to a lifetime. Buzz preached the gospel according to Saint Nick, and his ability to practice what he preached attracted many future Santas.

For too many Americans, Christmas will not arrive soon enough this year. For others, the day, season and spirit may not come at all.

We live in troubled times, and there is no indication the times will be changing for the better any time soon. Until they do, our American way of life will remain disrupted.

There are many American children and adults who are currently frightened, confused and worried. They need the grace of God and strength of all that is symbolized by our flag, but they also need kindness, comfort, and support.

When I think of kindness, the image of Santa Claus immediately comes to mind. When I think of Santa, I think of Buzz — my colleague, patient, and friend of more than 20 years.

Buzz died recently, but before he did, he willed the title of Santa Claus to anyone who understood that one of life’s greatest gifts was a willingness to give. He died with the hope each of us would allow Santa Claus to emerge from our personalities and contribute an added measure of kindness to our troubled world.

When the Book of Medicine is finally completed, some physicians will be remembered as surgeon general, some as president of the American Medical Association and some as director of the Centers for Disease Control. If there is a line in the book for me, I’d like to be remembered as a country doctor who once took care of Santa Claus.

Bernard Remakus is an internal medicine physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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