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Booster Shots

Medically Correct Gifts

November 26, 2001|ROSIE MESTEL

Thanksgiving's over and done with. So tradition dictates that we rush out and shop, shop, shop. Stuck on what to get your nearest and dearest? Why not consider a medically themed gift?

Aunt Millie, for one, might like a chocolate model of an anatomically correct heart (made of one pound's worth of solid, premium milk chocolate). The heart comes complete with coronary arteries and veins, plus exits to the major blood vessels: You can almost see it pulse.

Heart not your bag? Consider a lifelike brain instead. An advantage of the chocolate brain is it comes in two sizes: bite-size "chocolate brain treats" and a 1-pound whopper that you can slowly devour, nibbling the neocortex, savoring the cerebellum.... (Both the heart and brain can be found at http://www.allheart.com.)

There are a surprising number of other Web sites offering gifts for doctors, nurses and others in the health care field. Some of the items are dignified and no fun at all: solemn pens and bookends adorned with a caduceus--the staff-twined-with-snakes symbol of the medical profession. More fun are a molar-shaped penholder; a jaunty coffee mug with a handle shaped like the lower part of a human backbone; a Jell-O-like mold that allows you to make wobbling, strawberry-flavored brains; and ballpoint pens that look like blood-filled syringes.

And you need not limit yourself to gifts. This year, your yuletide tree can be adorned with whimsical decorations of doctors wearing stethoscopes or Santas getting their chests X-rayed. (The X-ray Santas are at http://www.nursesdirect.com.)

Prefer a dentistry theme? Go to http://www.openplease.com and you'll find Santas snoozing on dentists' chairs as well as toothpaste tube ornaments that are "crafted in Poland in a centuries-old tradition steeped in the spirit of Christmas."

Want something else for under your tree? Consider a larger figurine of Santa in his sled, merrily delivering toothbrushes and toothpaste to all the wee nips. (Parents: Try doing that and see what your kids do to you.)

The list goes on and on: pens shaped like arteries, pens shaped like bones (your choice of femur or finger bone, to be found at http://www.barebonesstore.com) and a classy penholder shaped like a vertebra ("A truly practical go-anywhere desk accessory. Discs and nerve-endings not included.")

I, meanwhile, am hoping to get a gift for myself. (There's the true spirit of the holidays for you.) By clicking on a button at one of the sites I can enter a sweepstake for a "Littmann Cardiology III stethoscope," which sure sounds classy. October's lucky winner was "Sanjay K" from Negara Brunei in Dar El Salam. Congrats to him! Next month, let it be me.

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It may not be fodder for the most fun of medical gifts, but that caduceus symbol (two snakes entwined round a winged rod) is kind of cool-looking. Where did it come from?

There's a whole book devoted to the topic: "The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine" by medical historian Walter J. Friedlander (Greenwood Press, 1992). From a review of the book, we learn that the symbol has only in this century been associated specifically with the medical profession.

The symbol was originally the magic wand of Hermes (a.k.a. Mercury), messenger god.

It later became associated with the Egyptian god Thoth, who was both wise and eloquent, and later still--in the 16th and 17th centuries--as a symbol for wise and eloquent people in general, including some doctors.

Then, in the 19th century it became a mark for a book publisher, who only incidentally sold medical books.

It was only in the 20th century that the U.S. Army adopted the sign for its medical department. During World War I and afterward, the symbol's association with medicine just spread and spread.

It's very pretty. And it sure would look nice made of chocolate....

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If you have an idea for a Booster Shots topic, write or e-mail Rosie Mestel at the Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st. St., Los Angeles, CA 90012, rosie.mestel@latimes.com.

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