Martin Hickman maneuvered his way into the office and pulled up his sleeve as the medical assistant put the brake on his wheelchair and attached the blood pressure cuff around his oversized upper arm. A bulky 56-year-old man with a heavy shock of gray hair teetering on the edge of his forehead, his problem list included type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, obesity, and hyperlipidemia. For the past 15 years he has used a wheelchair due to T4 paraplegia from a gunshot wound. He has also suffers from bouts of major depression that respond to sertraline but never fully remit. As the medical assistant inflated the cuff, Mr. Hickman smiled weakly and maintained a cheerful façade even after she informed him that his blood pressure was 164/88 mm Hg and his glucose was 267 mg/dl (both well above goal). Later, on more careful questioning by his primary care physician, Hickman admitted that he was feeling “more down than usual” and that he sometimes neglected to take his diabetes medicine and blood pressure pills. Thinking back over the years he had cared for this patient, the physician recalled that December tended to be a particularly bad month. Social isolation, tolerable for most of the year, became painful around the holidays. December also happened to mark the anniversary of Hickman's spinal cord injury.
The clock was running, the waiting room was full, and the physician realized he was already falling behind.