By Dr. Jim Ferguson
A writer is rarely satisfied with his prose. I am always looking for a better word or better phrasing of my stories. Perhaps The Focus publishing deadline serves a purpose and, at least for this writer, forces closure on what might be a never-ending edit. Sometimes you just have to conclude that your column is the best you can do at that moment.

Abbreviated Holiday schedules are necessary to give The Knoxville Focus staff enough time to “put the paper to bed” and be with their families. Admittedly, this poses a challenge for me. Coming up with two essays in ten days, and writing something worthy, is difficult for this would-be writer and columnist.

Years ago, when I was hospitalized, The Focus republished some of my old columns, but for 14 years I’ve tried to offer fresh observations each week. Admittedly, my themes of medicine, science, history, politics, religion, travel, the arts and philosophy do repeat themselves. Without apologies, I have to write about what interests me at the moment. You may have noticed that several months ago the Health and Wellness section was changed to Connections. I have to admit that this heading affords me greater thematic latitude. I can assure you a weekly column only about Internal Medicine would be as dry as toast and boring.

Having offered these excuses, I decided to do something different in the shortened workweek before Christmas and rework a column I wrote more than 10 years ago. Those of you who have my collection of essays, “Well…What Did the Doctor Say?”, have the original, but hopefully, this latest edition will be an improved version. (Incidentally, Amazon still has my book and lists it as a “best seller!” Perhaps they are trying to downsize their warehouse inventory.)


“How long ye in for?” I asked the man next to me as I dropped down into a chair strategically placed for men Christmas shopping with their wives.

“Oh, I’ve got about another hour on my sentence,” he sighed deeply. I responded with a knowing nod that all men understand. It has been one of my observations that “women shop while men buy.” There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but my wife, Becky, acknowledges that even if she were to find the perfect gift for a great price, she’d need to confirm this by looking at all the alternatives. Folks, men and women are different and that should be celebrated.

My new friend pointed at the bags scattered around our feet and quipped, “We ain’t much more than a couple of pack mules, are we?”

I laughed at his tongue-in-cheek humor, enjoying the male bonding which occurs among “pack mules.”  I didn’t tell him that I’d volunteered to come Christmas shopping with my wife, feeling a bit guilty that she usually does the bulk of our shopping. I do help around the house and in other ways, but mostly it’s Becky who makes our house a home.

Actually, I was on a mission the Saturday before Christmas. I had been actively listening to my wife for Christmas suggestions over the last several months. However, no ideas had surfaced, and as Christmas approached, I was becoming more desperate. I even resorted to asking her directly for suggestions, only to hear that she “didn’t need anything.”

It is certainly true that Becky and I are blessed and want for little of substance. But it’s Christmas, for Heaven’s sake, and I’ve got to have something for her on Christmas morning besides stocking stuffers that I entrust to Santa. I have even asked patients for suggestions. The best advice came from a lady who said to “give her something from the heart.”

One of my favorite stories is “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, who is famous for surprise endings. This short story about a young couple at Christmas can be found with a simple Google search and then savored. My Christmas gift to readers is to take my recommendation and read O. Henry’s 1905 story about Dell and Jim, who exemplify the spirit of Christmas and the sacrificial giving that the Greeks referred to as agape.

My gift doesn’t compare to the gifts of the Wise Men at Epiphany two thousand years ago. Nor can I say that I gave sacrificially as the couple in O. Henry’s story. But I think my essay “The Gift of the Fer-Guy” will give you a smile.

Many years ago, Becky and I were troubled by a series of break-ins at our home. On one occasion the thieves went through my wife’s jewelry and took nothing. That insult has cost me plenty over the years. I vowed to never again be the victim of such scorn!

You might ask what this vignette has to do with medicine. I might reply that this story is about relationships and commitment and love for the person with whom you share your life. We’ve all heard it said that “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody gonna be happy.” But it goes far beyond this. Forty-six years ago, I chose a partner for life and I believe that this contract is renegotiated every day by working on my marriage. If you think you can neglect your partner, your family, or your spiritual relationship and assume they won’t wither, then you need to talk with your doctor, counselor, or minister. How’s that for a Christmas homily and New Year’s resolution?

So, being with your wife shopping, even if only hauling bags around for her, is relationship building. Sending cards, writing personal emails or connecting with loved ones by phone, Skype or even text, are also relationship building. Modern technology can connect us like no other time in history. The admonition is, use it or lose it. Entropy is a physics term where all systems lose energy. I have observed that entropy is operative in all systems of the universe. Don’t allow important relationships to dissipate. You must, as Hans and Franz once said, “Pump it up!”

Lastly, I’ve heard it said that if you love someone you spend time with her. But guys, a special Christmas frill also helps.

Food for thought…