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Humor April 2012

Strictly Humor

Critical Humor

By B. Elwin Sherman

No doctor or nurse should be allowed to let their skills loose upon the ill and wounded without a mandatory course in humor. It is often the panacea when anything else bottled, sprayed, injected or otherwise directed at afflicted souls falls short of healing.

For humor to work, it needs pain.

Any Granite Stater knows that you can’t get a good punch line off the ground without a little suffering. Even a cursory look at our weather (nine months of winter and three months of poor tobogganing) proves that. Or, if you truly love to laugh, you can’t beat our New Hampshire Primary posing as the hapless straight man.

But the same doesn’t hold true for pain. Humorless pain rolls along just fine on its own. Only one problem. It’s painful.

My job? Find the humor in pain, and no better way than a few pointers on how to navigate through the serious illness of a loved one.

I have an advantage here, having worked as a male nurse for the last 30 years along with my humor columning duties. This double life has afforded me countless opportunities for practicing the pursuit of poet Sara Teasdale, where she “found more joy in sorrow than you found in joy.”

No doctor or nurse should be allowed to let their skills loose upon the ill and wounded without a mandatory course in humor. It is often the panacea when anything else bottled, sprayed, injected or otherwise directed at afflicted souls falls short of healing.

Sometimes --- as laced with misery as it is --- laughter IS the best medicine, and for those who work under the caduceus, it is often the saving grace, dark as it oftentimes is. Cases in point:

The two diabetic male patients I once cared for who’d both had opposite lower leg amputations. They’d been needling me for days with indelicate comments on my being a man serving in what they believed was a woman’s profession. One morning, I’d had enough.

“Listen, you guys,” I announced, “either you shape up or I’m going to tie you together and we’ll have a two-legged race.”

Shocked silence, followed by a round of raucous laughter and the end of their derision. After that, they would ask for me to serve as their nurse whenever I worked the post-surgical unit. We won’t even mention the “you don’t have a leg to stand on” dark humor that followed them through their recovery and discharge.

Once, when assessing vital signs on a male patient who’d become particularly troubled over a difficult prognosis, I leveled the tried and true Groucho Marxism: “Well, either this patient is dead or my watch has stopped.”

The laugh factor applied then and through my subsequent visits with him was not measurable on any lab report, though I’m convinced it helped his blood disease the same way that pounding a steering wheel will help start a cold engine in our frigid winter.

Most recently, I was myself renewed by good humor along with her caregivers, when my life partner Judy, who has weaved through several months of a serious illness, helped all of us help her through the difficult rounds of surgeries and treatments.

At a prestigious New Hampshire teaching hospital, I was at her bedside as the attending physician demonstrated an ultrasound procedure to a roomful of young interns.

As he interpreted her lung imagery on the screen, he said to them: “And you can see right there,” he pointed out, “where it's a clearer image when there's no movement."

Judy looked up at me with mischievous eyes: “Uh, honey, isn’t that an autopsy?”

That’s what she gets for hooking up with a humorist.

Just what the doctor ordered.

 

B. Elwin Sherman writes from Bethlehem, NH. His new book, “Walk Tall and Carry a Big Watering Can,” is scheduled for publication soon by Plaidswede Publishing.

Meet B. Elwin