Christmas is a time for receiving

Christmas is almost upon us and with it comes patients bearing gifts of great variety.

It’s part of the excitement and mystery of the season. There’s the ‘wow’ gift, symbolised by the fantastic claret I received from Mrs Rather-Posh last year and shall drink on Christmas Day with enormous pleasure.

Then there’s the ‘useful’ gift, the patient equivalent of the Marks and Spencer bath set. An odour-dispersing candle or soap-on-a-rope shaped like a blood pressure monitor; it doesn’t fire your spirits but it will still serve a purpose and it is, after all, the thought that counts.

Then there are the heartstring gifts. The poem, the carefully drawn picture by a child patient of you, the doctor, tending to the poorly tummy and wearing wings and a halo. (Okay I made that up — usually I’m depicted as a wild-haired gremlin with a giant stethoscope).

Most gifts are, of course, hermetically sealed, and some were distilled north of the border and can annihilate all known germs.

But there is another sort of gift, isn’t there? The well-meant but impossible-to-enjoy gift, the giant gold plastic earrings of Christmas presents — the heartsink gift.

Invariably the patients are the sweetest souls you can imagine, and great thought has gone into the gift — yet, alas, when Mrs Fester brings in her fruit cake I know that with every mouthful I will remember when she had maggots on her legs (and they weren’t medical maggots).

Nevertheless, all gifts are symbolic of that invisible yet unbreakable bond between patient and healer, that link that makes us what we are.

So the cake will come home to sit in the pantry glowering at me, until I finally convince myself one morning that brandy soaked prunes must be sterile, eat half the thing in one sitting, develop acute indigestion and live on losec for a week. Yes, some gifts are sent to try us, but it’s Christmas, for Heaven’s sake. What else would you do?

- Dr Selby is a GP in Suffolk.

You can write to her at

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