A Minute to Laugh

July 12, 2010

A couple of years ago, there was a survey of medical residents (or was it surgical residents?), 17 percent of whom admitted to laughing at or making fun of patients behind their backs. The other 83 percent are liars.

A couple of years ago, there was a survey of medical residents (or was it surgical residents?), 17 percent of whom admitted to laughing at or making fun of patients behind their backs.

The other 83 percent are liars.

Oh, come on. What we do is stressful and emotionally-charged. We need humor to make work and life bearable. You would have to be a droid to never have felt the need to laugh at some of the things we see and hear.

And I think physicians in general have a very odd, sometimes morbid sense of humor. Who else over the age of 6 would find humor in various body fluids? Who else would look at a large pedunculated growth on the inner thigh and say, “One ball short of a walk”?

And patients tell us all kinds of things, from the silly to the downright absurd. How can you not laugh when a patient says they don’t eat lunch, and yet when you say, “Really? You have nothing at all to eat from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.?” and she responds, “No, all I have is a ham, salami, and cheese sandwich at noon.”? Or the one who says, “I don’t drink alcohol. The last time I had a drink was Saturday. I hardly ever drink. Maybe on the weekends, but that’s it. I never drink.” You either have to laugh or knock your head into the wall.

Don’t get me wrong. Our patients deserve our respect and empathy. And they deserve the best medical care possible (in the great context of the healthcare system). And we should be professional in our demeanor. Absolutely.

But we are also human. And the chuckle we get when Mr. Brown insists he is gaining weight despite “eating nothing” and therefore is able to defy the laws of matter and create something out of nothing, is one of our ways of coping with the daily demands put upon us.

We are asked each day to be listener, counselor, healer of body and soul, teacher, coach, and cheerleader, not to mention employer, scribe, and sometimes janitor, as well as spouse, parent, child, sibling, and community leader. So a little levity in our busy hectic day is sometimes all we need to make it to the next. It is not intended to be disrespectful to our patients. Indeed, perhaps we should be grateful the next time a patient says, “It hurts when I do this.”