Gallows Guffaws

doctor and patient

There’s an old saying that laughter is the best medicine

 Laugh therapy  is a real thing and there have been multiple studies that looked deeply into the positive physiological side effects of laughter and smiling

Using jokes and humor to connect with and ease the troubled minds of ill patients and their families has long been a tactic employed by many medical professionals, most famously exemplified in the movie Patch Adams starring Robin Williams, about the real life story of Dr. Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams’, often known as the ‘Clown Doctor’

Patch Adams Real

The real life ‘Patch Adams’

But what about the doctors and nurses who are treating the patients?

Healing people and dealing with life and death situations can be extremely stressful and those in the medical field sometimes look to dark or gallows humor as a way of releasing stress and combating the real life blood, guts and trauma they deal with every day

These two different strains of medical humor, the jokes for the patients and the jokes for the doctors are both acceptable and appropriate methods of dealing with the harshness of their respective realities

However, the jokes are only acceptable and appropriate for their intended audiences, as demonstrated by this example in a 2011 report on humor in medicine by Katie Watson for the Hastings Center:

It was 3am and three tired emergency room residents were wondering why the pizza they’d ordered hadn’t come yet

A nurse interrupted with a shout: “GSW Trauma One—no pulse, no blood pressure.” The residents immediately recognized the unconscious shooting victim: he was the teenage delivery boy from their favorite all-night restaurant

A surgeon cracked the kid’s rib cage and exposed his heart, but the bullet had torn it open and they couldn’t even stabilize him for the OR. After forty minutes of resuscitation they called it: time of death, 4am

The young doctors sat in silence. Then one said what all three were thinking. “What happened to our pizza?”  It was found where the delivery boy dropped it before he ran from his attackers, it was face up, a few steps away from the ER’s sliding doors

They set it on the table and stared at it

Then one of the residents made a joke. “How much you think we ought to tip him?”

The residents laughed

Then they ate the pizza

Had this joke been overheard by the family and friends of the delivery driver it would have been completely inappropriate and offensive. That is not what they needed to hear in that momentFunny electrodes

However, this joke was exactly what the doctors needed to hear to release some of the tension from the horrible situation so that they could move on from the event and finish out the rest of their shifts

Humor often serves a purpose, a joke can both positively and negatively effect a situation. The outcome of a joke can vary greatly depending on the person telling the joke and the person hearing the joke

But no matter the reason it’s being used, comedy can be a way of handling the unimaginable, facing a daunting situation and laughing in its face, regardless of how heavy or overwhelming it might seem

When dealing with stress and strife in the medical world the prescription for humor for both doctors and patients still stands, but the dose of laughter inducing treatment will differ greatly depending on which one is taking the medicine


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s