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Humor May 2013

Strictly Humor

Funny as a Heart Attack

By B. Elwin Sherman

Try healing without humor. You can do it, but the result is like living with plastic plants. I’ve also worked with a few humorless healthcare professionals, and that’s like spending your day watering plastic plants.

I know what you’re thinking: he wouldn’t DARE write a humor column about heart attacks! Well … yes, he would … because if he didn’t, he’d have to hang up his humorist shoes.

But first, a revelation: For my dedicated readers who aren’t aware of it, I’ve been a nurse for as long as I’ve been a humor columnist, and neither discipline has ever worked very well in my life without borrowing from the other.

Try healing without humor. You can do it, but the result is like living with plastic plants. I’ve also worked with a few humorless healthcare professionals, and that’s like spending your day watering plastic plants.

When my life partner suffered a heart attack, however, I do admit to not finding the funny in it right away. I reacted as any of us do when a loved one’s life is suddenly threatened and we must act to save them, then and there, and without benefit of script or rehearsal.

I dialed information to ask for the phone number for 911. I lost control of all my bodily functions. I chased my head across the carpet after it fell off and rolled under the bed. I screamed “Help!” in every one of the world’s 6800 known languages and sub-dialects. Oh, and I had my own heart attack and fell dead. The end.

I did all those things … in my mind … and in less time than it took to type the “p” in panic. Then, back at reality, I called 911. I assessed her vital signs. I was calm, controlled and deliberate. I stayed with her and helped her breathe. I set everything in motion that ultimately saved her life. I intervened precisely and (except for that one “p” in panic microsecond) without hesitation.

After I saw her off in the ambulance, I went back inside, retrieved most of my head, collected some of my bodily fluids, cleaned the carpet, left the house and followed her in my car to the hospital with all the controlled nurse/humorist muse I could muster.

And, for reasons known only to those goofy reflexive coping mechanisms we all have, I first put a harmonica and a bar of baker’s chocolate in a tote bag. Somehow, it seemed like the vital contents for a post-heart attack emergency room survival kit.

This brings us to a few rules for surviving your loved one’s heart attack. It’s a work in progress.

If you think prayer will help, pray. If you think having a back-up harmonica song and some bittersweet chocolate at the ready will help, have them with you at all times. My grandma used to say: “Whatever flips your skirt.” Our coping methods are our own.

You’ve now become a caregiver to your partner. Take care NOT to become a caretaker. Meet them where they are, not where you’d like them to be. This is a good general rule for doctors, nurses, politicians and stand-up comics.

When the publisher for my new book heard the news, he wrote an encouraging note, adding this sage advice, based on his having gone through his spouse’s heart attack: “Don’t volunteer to do the dishes or you’ll be doing them forever.” I took this under advisement, and later invented Zen Dishwashing and Fry Pan Nirvana.

Believe everything doctors tell you, and don’t believe anything doctors tell you. Settle somewhere in the middle.

Don’t forget, as you devote yourself to your partner’s recovery and rehabilitation, to tend to your own basic needs. Find time to eat, sleep and bathe. Try not to do all these things at once (insert visual of a humorist standing up asleep in the shower and holding soggy toast).

Life as you knew it is over. You now have a new life with your mate, replete with new strategies for living, and restructured ways of sharing and communicating. Within weeks of their heart attack, you’ll also know the sodium and sugar content of every food on the shelves.

And in America, as you set out newly determined to find “heart-healthy” foods, pay close attention. You’re also now adding shopping and cooking to dishwashing and pot scrubbing. The only food I could find at the supermarket with no-added-salt and/or sugar, (no wonder we’re all sick) was toilet paper.

Anyone have a recipe for bathroom tissue tortellini soup?

Lastly, NEVER lose your sense of humor, and do your very best to keep your recovering partner’s in play. I’ve invented a nursing diagnostic (I may patent it, so be careful). It’s called a “humding-oscopy.” Here’s how to perform it:

Stand at your partner’s side and place one hand on their chest, one hand on their back. Jiggle/rub gently for 10 seconds while chanting “HealHealHealHealHeal” in your best basso profundo cartoon voice. Laugh together. Rest together.

Repeat as needed.


Humor columnist B. Elwin Sherman launches his columns from Bethlehem, N.H.

Meet B. Elwin