Dr. Mandelbaum Shares with Medscape a Special Gift He Received from a Patient for the Holidays

18 Gifts From Patients: Wacky, Funny, and Simply Touching

Many patients are thankful for the care a doctor has given to them or a loved one, particularly during a serious illness, and express their appreciation by presenting the doctor with a gift at holiday time or other special occasion.

We asked physicians to tell us about the memorable gifts they have received over the years. Even taking into account people's widely varying ideas on what makes a suitable gift, there were plenty of eye-openers.

As you will see, some gifts are deeply moving. Others will put a smile on your face. A number of them are downright bizarre. But each was given with a heartfelt spirit. And each has become a cherished—or at least an indelible—memory of the doctor who received it.

The Art of Surgery

Noted sculptor Bill Arms was so pleased with how his surgical procedure turned out that he gifted his orthopedic surgeon, Bert R. Mandelbaum, MD, of the Santa Monica Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Group in Santa Monica, California, with an 18-inch replica of a monumental outdoor sculpture that Arms created for the Los Angeles Football Club. The gift was particularly appropriate because Dr Mandelbaum has long been involved in professional soccer and helped develop the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) exercise program.

"Doc, I Quit This Time. Really."

"My favorite gift ever was a bottle opener with the Marlboro logo on it," writes Charles P. Vega, MD, clinical professor of family medicine at the University of California, Irvine. "It was great because the patient had told me that he had quit his habits of heavy smoking and drinking 'years ago.' The sheepish look when I asked exactly where he got his bottle opener was great. I just gave him a pat on the shoulder, and we sat down to examine those habits."

"On the other hand, thinking about it now, I realize that maybe this was a sign that he HAD indeed quit drinking. He was giving up his tools."

The Greatest Gift: A Helping Hand When It Is Needed

"A patient bought my house for cash after my divorce," says Eugene, Oregon, family doctor Pamela L. Wible, MD. "It wasn't even on the market yet. It saved my butt."

It’s the Thought That Counts!

"One gift that stands out in my mind was from one of my adult patients with an intellectual disability," recalls internist Matthew Mintz, MD, associate professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine. "In addition to some complicated medical issues and the challenges she likely faced navigating daily living, she was very poor (although she had Medicaid, so I could provide her care). Just before Christmas, she gave me a pair of black men's dress socks—not in a package, but obviously new. She barely had the means to clothe herself, and yet she thought of giving me a gift. I'm not exactly sure why she picked socks, but her act of selflessness made this one of the best gifts I have ever received."

Eye-Catching Jewelry

"After a successful cataract surgery, a patient honored me by giving me this tie clip that belonged to her husband, an optometrist who had passed away several years before," says ophthalmologist Robert H. Graham, MD, of Scottsdale, Arizona. "He wore it every day, as I do now."

A Touching Remembrance

"Not long after her death, the daughter of a patient brought me a painting her mother had always loved," says oncologist Kathy D. Miller, MD, codirector of the Breast Cancer Program at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis. "I had cared for her mother, a university faculty member, for several years. Her mother was awarded her PhD and ultimately become a tenured professor during the time I managed her metastatic disease. She was a strong woman who challenged me, alternately making me smile and pull my hair out. The letter that came with the painting explained the strength and celebration of women that the painting had always represented to her mother."

A Gift With an Earthy Message

Writes David A. Johnson, MD, chief of gastroenterology at Eastern Virginia School of Medicine in Norfolk: "This hat was made for me by one of my first fecal transplant patients, who was quite grateful after being cured of complicated relapsing Clostridium difficile infections."

Where Words Fail, Music Speaks

"A patient, a veteran, wrote a song for me—music and words—as a gift. I kept it for years, but then it got lost in a house fire. I never forgot it."

Fruit of the Human Spirit

"A Spanish-speaking–only mother bought her 2-month-old infant to see me. He had respiratory syncytial virus. As a mother, I 'connected' with the worried mom by speaking in a sweet mother-voice to her little son, commenting with my limited Spanish how handsome he was, reassuring her that he would be 'poquito mejor esta mañana.' The mother and her husband were field workers, hard-working people with very little income. They gave me the most enormous nectarine I had ever seen. This mom was monetarily poor but was rich in human spirit. Her expression of gratitude humbles me still."

A Cuddly Gift That Evokes Warm Memories

"When I was a medical student on surgery rotation, a lung cancer patient came back to the hospital months after her surgery and tracked me down, even though I was on a different service. She had spent her postop recovery working on knitting me a blanket. I had told her I'd pray for her in the operating room. I still use that blanket when I take a nap 25 years later."

A Gift Appropriate for Any Doctor

"A letter of appreciation addressed to the president of the hospital."

You Never Know When These Will Come in Handy!

"A patient gave me a bag of dried mealworms. I didn't know what to say. He thought I had chickens. I think he had me confused with someone else. Apparently, chickens eat dried mealworms as a treat. Funny thing…now, 25 years later, I DO have chickens—haha!"

Eat, Doctor, Eat

"Dill pickles—they were very good."

"Pizza with a happy face made out of pepperoni."

"Carrots carefully cut with a scalloped knife."

"A pomegranate, with instructions on how to eat it."

Gifts of Remembrance

"I received a small box of potpourri from a patient who later died. I still have it, and it still stinks, although I have very fond memories of the giver."

"A candle, handmade by the patient before she passed away."

"A locket of hair from a mom whose preemie baby had died."

"After his death, the wife gave me the bow tie her husband had sported."

"A necktie from the estate of one of my palliative care patients. It was brought to me by the patient's daughter because he had indicated that he 'knew' I would wear it."

Gifts That Live On. And On

"Staghorn fern—20 years later, I still have it, and it is growing nicely."

"Curly, lucky bamboo plant. It was actually pretty nice, lasted a long time."

"A dying cactus, but it meant a lot to them."

Pet Peeves

"A little baby sheep."

"Living partridges."

"A live baby goat."

"One patient tried to give me a kitten."

"A white Maltese dog."

"A baby sheep and two ducks from a farmer. He was diagnosed and treated with brucellosis in our clinic."

Just What I Needed. Thank You So Much!

"A bowl filled with water and plastic eyeballs floating in it."

"A pair of pantyhose."

"False teeth."

"Hunting knife, with the message 'Widow Maker' engraved on it."

"An evil-eye key chain."

"Thong underwear with a telephone number written on them."

Oh No, You Shouldn’t Have!

"Mongolian dried yak-milk bar."

"An old orange."

"A piece of candy that looked like it was 10 years old. He took it out of his pocket, and it was sticky."

"A bushel of apples with a tiny bite taken out of each. The patient explained that her children got to the apples before she was able to put them away!"

Related Articles

As the Olympics Approaches, a Lesson in Overcoming Adversity