Dr. Otis (Doc) Bowen, secretary of health and human services -- and a small-town doctor for 30 years before he became governor of Indiana -- has a thousand jokes about himself and his former patients and sprinkles them through his speeches.

Such as: Early in my practice, I ran into a farmer I'd been treating. I tried to tell him that his check had bounced. Putting it as nicely as I could, I said, "By the way, your check came back."

He looked at me, smiled and said, "That's funny, so did my lumbago." A physician in the pediatric ward overheard this conversation one day:

One boy asked the other whether he was in the hospital for "medical or surgical reasons."

The second lad looked puzzled, so he tried putting it another way: "What I mean is, were you sick when you came in or did they make you sick after you got here?" The famous preacher Norman Vincent Peale used the services of a young physician who was not an ardent churchgoer. The doctor never sent a bill.

Finally Peale said, "Look here, doctor, I have to know how much I owe you."

After thinking it over, the physician said, "I'll tell you, Peale, I hear you're a pretty fair preacher, and you seem to think I'm a pretty good doctor. I'll keep you out of heaven if you'll do all you can to keep me out of hell. And it won't cost either of us a cent." When I was in practice, I had my own definition of profit and loss.

I could count it as profit when I rendered a medical opinion in my office.

And loss if I had to render that same opinion out on the street. Bowen has also acquired some Washington humor: :: In connection with the cigarette warning label. One of my predecessors was speaking in one of the tobacco states. Afterward, he was cornered by a local politician who said, "Mister Secretary, a lot of us folks wonder why you spend so much time warning folks about tobacco. Seems to us you might better talk about other problems, like all the sexual abuse we read about."

The secretary replied, "You know we did give that some thought. Trouble was, we couldn't figure out where to put the surgeon general's warning label." I'd always thought a staff infection was a wound that you treated with an antibiotic. Here a staff infection is when a Democrat sneaks onto your payroll. I thought "dead on arrival" was the unfortunate consequence of stepping in front of a fast-moving freight train. Here, it's applied to the President's budget. A bleeding heart used to require immediate surgery to save a life. In Washington, it just requires some space on The Washington Post editorial page.