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I believe that hard work is preventative medicine

Debate about the medical plan -- particularly since no one seems to agree on anything -- makes one more suspicious of Congress than ever. I hear some suggest it is the president's fault. More often than not, the prevailing view that it is the fault of the insurance companies that there is no consensus.

We are all worried about the government's involvement -- and rightfully so. Nobody I know is compatible with the idea of socialized medicine. However, I have noticed that it seems to work in places like England and France, which reminds me of a story about this young English couple eager to start a family. The wife, sensing that she might be pregnant, scheduled an appointment with a doctor. After a routine examination, he confirmed that she was pregnant.

As the expectant mother was being dismissed, the doctor sent her in to see a nurse who took out a circular stamp, blotted it on an ink pad and stamped the patient's stomach, sending her on her merry way.

When the young wife arrived home, she announced to her husband that she was indeed pregnant. He asked her about the examination, which prompted his wife to explain that the nurse had stamped her stomach as the appointment was concluded.

"It appears that the stamp has some type of writing, but I can't make it out," she told him. Her husband then looked at the marking and said, somewhat in exasperation, "I can't make it out either."

Eventually they got out a magnifying glass. The husband took a closer look with the magnifying glass. "What does it say?" his wife asked. The husband replied, "When this writing gets big enough that you can read it without the magnifying glass, it is time for you to return to the doctor."

I can remember when people didn't seem to get as sick as they do these days. They lived hard lives, often in toiling in the sun. Gainful employment often meant manual labor. They had less stress and ate from their garden. In retrospect, I have concluded that hard work is healthy. The first doctor I ever knew, Dr. Beddingfield, lived on a farm, himself. A porch stretched around most of his house. You ride by, and you would see patients sitting on the porch, waiting to see the doctor. They brought vegetables and foodstuffs to pay their bills. His main prescription was aspirin and sage advice.

There aren't any country doctors left. You can hardly find a general practitioner. One of my favorite doctors is Ferrol Sams from Fayetteville whose wife Helen was also a physician. They practiced together until retirement.

Ferrol, an engaging raconteur, is also an accomplished author. His book, "Run with the Horsemen," published by Peachtree Publishers, brought gushing reviews. Accomplished as a physician and author, Ferrol could have made it as a comedian. Many of his stories were no doubt embellished, but they were generally based on real characters and real episodes.

One of his classic vignettes came from a man who told Ferrol about a friend of his who was always grumbling about his aches and pains. His complaining became exacerbated as he grew older.

"I'll tell you, Doc," the patient said. "My friend never quits complaining about his health. Just the other day, he was saying to me, 'Who in the hell would want to live to be 80 years old?'

"I told him Doc. Any s.o.b. who is 79."

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.