Dear Annie: My dad is in the hospital for the fourth time in a year. Yesterday, a specialist finally admitted that Dad's chief problem has likely been inappropriate drugs prescribed by his family physician.

Ten years ago, Dad was in good health and took no medications. Then he started seeing "Dr. Jones." Dad's cholesterol and blood pressure were slightly elevated, so Jones put him on a statin and a blood-pressure drug. Over the years, Dad's cholesterol and pressure continued to go up, and he began having other unexplained health problems. Every time, Dr. Jones denied any connection to the drugs and instead increased the dosages and prescribed more.

Several times I begged Dad to get a second opinion, but he trusted and liked Jones. He told me I worried too much and that he was simply getting older. Two years ago, Dad began having serious problems and was put on a blood thinner and diuretics. When he collapsed, the ER doctor told him to stop taking his cholesterol meds. Dr. Jones said the ER doctor was an idiot and instead diagnosed Dad with an unrelated muscle inflammation, for which he prescribed a high-dose steroid. When Dad began showing severe side effects, Jones claimed they were unconnected.

The upshot is that Dad lies in a hospital, too weak to move and not knowing what day it is. His kidneys are barely functioning and he refuses to eat. The doctors and staff (bless them!) are genuinely concerned, but his system is such a pharmaceutical cesspool that they are having a difficult time figuring it out.

Annie, please warn your readers. Dr. Jones' haste in reaching for a prescription pad seems to be standard medical practice. But I'm just as angry with myself for not being more forceful. Maybe then, Dad would be out tending his tomatoes today, not dying on me. —Bitter Pill

Dear Bitter: It is always wise to get a second opinion. Please stop blaming yourself. No matter how hard you kicked and screamed, your father would most likely have continued with the regimen he was taking from a doctor he trusted. And not all doctors are willing to admit they have misjudged their treatment protocol. If you think Dr. Jones is guilty of malpractice, he should be reported to his state medical board. Please know our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Dear Annie: I need to know how to invite someone to have lunch at a restaurant without having them assume I intend to pay for their meal. I'm not talking about a date — just a meal with a friend. Finances are extremely tight, but it would be embarrassing to tell them that. —Wanting Company

Dear Wanting: Simply say something along the lines of, "We should get together for lunch. How about Tuesday?" Then have them suggest a place and time.

Dear Annie: I read the letter from "Just a Little Gray," who asked about coloring her hair at home. My husband used to color my hair and did a great job. Then I began treating myself to a cut and color at the salon.

When my husband recently lost his job, I explained to my hairdresser that I could no longer afford to get the whole treatment. She wanted to keep me as a customer, as I had been with her for years, so she told me what color would be the closest to what she used. Now I buy it when it is on sale and my husband is coloring my hair again. No one even knows unless I tell them. I have never had a problem, and my hairdresser says he does a great job.

I find it hard to do my own hair, so I recommend having your spouse help. If that doesn't work, organize a hair party with your friends and do one another's hair. It could be lots of fun. —Brown Betty

Dear Betty: Great ideas. And we're quite impressed with your husband.

Dear Annie: I'd like to respond to "Totally Lost," whose wife had gained weight over the years. After 23 years of marriage, my husband is significantly overweight. I encourage him to exercise and make healthier choices about food, but it typically results in him yelling at me that he can do whatever he wants.

Four years ago, I took your advice and began eating healthier and working out regularly, hoping it would encourage "Frank" to do the same. I now look 10 years younger and am in the best shape of my life. Frank, however, has chosen food over his health and our relationship. I love him, but am no longer physically attracted to his fat beer gut. I have a gentleman friend at my office, 10 years younger, attractive and physically fit, who has indicated he would like something more and the temptation is very strong.

I would like to tell anyone who thinks it's OK to be overweight to put down the bag of chips and hit the gym or you may lose something more valuable than food. —Loves Chips More Than Me

Dear Chips: You were ready to make changes, but your husband isn't. His size, however, doesn't give you permission to cheat. Please remember what you love about him before you do something you'll regret.

Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to [email protected], or write to: Annie's Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611. © Creators SYndicate, Inc.