Friday, December 21, 2012

A most unusual patient



MGHers with a view of the helipad may be surprised on Christmas Eve if they catch a glimpse of an extremely unusual patient with an extremely unusual mode of transportation – aboard a magical sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer. Thankfully the jolly old man will be feeling 100 percent better than when he was wheeled into the MGH Emergency Department earlier this month with a laundry list of medical problems.

The MGH has many beloved historical treasures – 
but perhaps none so enjoyed and embraced during each December as the annual admission of Santa Claus as a patient. It’s a tradition that dates back to the early 1950s, when a surgical resident first decided to log a humorous account of Santa’s ailments. The ritual continued in the ensuing years – resulting in a medical record that now stands four feet tall. “You can open to almost any page and have fun reading it,” said Andrew L. Warshaw, MD, MGH surgeon-in-chief emeritus. Warshaw detailed Santa’s humorous history during a special “The Santa Files” presentation on Dec. 17 at the Paul S. 
Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation.


Old Saint Nick’s illnesses and complaints have included a bleeding heart, a hernia from lifting a heavy sack, jelly-belly, too pooped to pop, reindeer scratch disease and Noël syndrome – a pathological aversion to the 12th letter of the alphabet. The causes of his ailments are amusing, but the real humor is seen in the way the resulting diagnosis and treatment options are recorded. Staff each year take great care to document their responses in clever ways – using poetry, puns and witty descriptions, as well as comical drawings and illustrations. Warshaw said the documents also are used in a more serious manner, as training tools for educational discussion during Surgical Grand Rounds.

“This is a treasure we have to preserve,” Warshaw said. “And that is why we are donating the records to the museum to be a part of its permanent collection. These records are great fun and a wonderful ongoing tradition at the MGH.”

Read more articles from the 12/21/12 Hotline issue.

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