Doctor takes lighthearted approach to serious subject

Las Vegas Review-Journal

by John Przbys

Bite the Apple

Dr. Mayer Horensten doesn't always fit the stereotypical, Marcus Welby-like image of the family doctor.

Take that bright red derby he dons to draw the audience's attention during the wellness seminars he conducts. Or the costumes — a jester's to illustrate the therapeutic value of humor, a crotchety old man's to show what happens when you don't take care of yourself — he wears during his presentations or the drums and songs that are also part fo the programs.

Take even, "Bite the Apple," a collection of health and medicine tips Horensten has written. What other doctor would include in his book the advice that you should really do what Mom said and wear clean underwear just in case that accident-related surpise medical exam does occur?

Horensten, an ebullient doctor with an ebullient manner and shaven pate — No surprise: he's played Daddy Warbucks in community theatre productions of "Annie" — says "Bite the Apple" ($7.95, Legendary Publishing Co., Boise, Idaho) is a way of sharing with readers tips he and other family physicians aren't able to share during the crush of the day.

Horensten is enough of a showman to realize that he needed a palatable, painless way to convey medical information to a sometimes jaded public.

"I looked at (health books on bookstore) shelves, and what I saw was rather boring and unimaginative," he says. "I came up with the format of injecting a lot of humor in the book. ...Despite its jocularity, it's chock full of solid and practical, useful information."

The book is small, 4 1/2-by-6-inches, and designed to fit comfortably in pocket or purse for quick bouts of reading during odd moments of the day. Information is presented in concise bits, and each page bears a drawing of a cartoonish apple that illustrates the health related factoids.

Horensten says it is also different from most such tomes on the market because "most of the stuff out there is, kind of fix-it-when-it's-broken books."

Many health problems are "largely preventable," Horensten says, and occur mostly because people don't take care of themselves.

"You've got a certain percentage — I'd say 20 to 40 precent — who really make an effort to take care of themselves. You've got other people who are totally in denial that they're ever going to get sick or have a heart attack. And you've got some people in the middle who occasionally make an effort at it, and are on their 98th diet of the year and it's, maybe, 120 days into the year.

A theme that runs throughout both the book and Horensten's wellness seminars is that each person has to be responsible for his or her own health.

"You've got to have what I call a survivor's instinct," he says." You've got to know when to come in out of the rain, otherwise you're going to get really wet."

Among the basics Horensten recommends is committing four numbers to memory: Social Security number, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol level.

"Surprisingly, a lot of people don't know their cholesterol,"he says. "And, they really need to take it a step further, find out what their good (HDL) cholesterol is, because that has importance to it."

The book includes advice for how frequently such simple preventative measures as Pap smears and prostate exams should be done, suggestions for finding good doctors and tips about mineral supplements, vitamins and nutrition.

Among the most effective health maintenance measures a person can take are stopping smoking and tobacco use, and becoming involved in a regular exercise program, he says.

"Then, the next level would be stress reduction," he says. "We are a stressed-out society. This is a stressed-out city.

"And people need to make sure they get enough sleep. 'Enough' sleep is when you wake up in the morning and you feel refreshed. Some people can get by with six hours, others need a solid eight hours.

Horensten says that, oddly enough, getting people to follow such obvious basics can be a doctor's most challenging task.

Everybody knows rest, exercise and proper diet are important, "but why aren't they doing this?" he says. "Part of why they aren't doing it is laziness."

"I think it's a fact that we've got to take a look at how we spend our day and out time," he says. "This is the only body we're going to get totally. You can get a liver transplant, a heart transplant, but nobody is going to give us a whole new body.

"Some people say, 'I don't mind dying.' You may not die; you may end up an invalid or someone who can't take care of himself, when (much disease is) preventable, to a large extent."

To those who claim, they just don't have the time to exercise, eat right or relax, "I say to my patients, 'Have a stroke. Then you'll have plenty of time to take care of it.'"

"We have a magnificent structure, our body. I am still as excited about how magnificent it is as I was when I was a medical student. When you think about it, as we talk here, the heart is automatically pumping blood, the blood is just thin enough so it doesn't clot in the arteries but not too thin so we don't start hemorrhaging, and if we've had something to eat, (the body is) digesting it. It's 28 systems all going and it's amazing."

Yet, he notes, "we take it for granted it and abuse it. We ruin it with tobacco, with drugs, with alochol."

"If there's one pearl I could give you, it would be to listen to your body," Horensten adds. "If your body's telling you it's tired or it aches, listen to it. The body has enough inherent ability to take better care of yourself than we can."

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