Green twisted and bundled plant

Gallows Humor

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in the stupid paper gown at the urgent care. I had an oozing skin ulcer on my shoulder that had sprung out of nowhere during a flare, it became infected because I was just too damned sick to do anything about it. Now, at the insistence of someone who seemed to care more about me than I cared about myself, I was finally getting it looked at.

In comes the doctor. After looking at my paperwork, she looks up at me and says, “You have all of this wrong with you?”

“Yah,” I reply. “Amazing I am even sitting up straight isn’t it?”

“According to this,” she says, “You have at least seven chronic conditions. Just so you know, seven is the limit, you aren’t allowed to have anymore.”

Laughing, I reply, “Great, can you tell my body that, I am pretty sick of this shit.”

How nice to find a doctor that was able to ease my fear of the pain and total disgust with myself and my current situation by starting off with a totally irreverent and very appropriate joke. How could she possibly know that I was a huge fan of gallows humor? That dark look at the misfortune of the current situation, and turning it into a big fat laugh that cuts through the tension like the first and only useful slice of that Ginsu knife you bought at the county fair.

A prescription for laughter I always try to be that patient that the nurses in the ER are happy to help out. I make them laugh and I commiserate with their late night misery. I joke with them and I laugh about the utter hell of the ER, including how I have contributed to the mess by showing up with my agony, and my difficult to pinpoint diagnoses. I joke about the vagary of my symptoms, and create an air of fun within the curtained walls of my little corner of institutional McMedicine. That is until I just can’t stand my own personal misery anymore.

The problem with this tactic is, it tends to minimize the pain you are in. Initially, it gets you all the attention you want and deserve, but it does lead to making you look less sick. It is a careful balance. And when you have chronic pain, you also have to be careful to not immediately ask for pain meds, so as to not appear to be yet another drug seeker. Our medical system is rife with the drug seekers, thus the rules of the system are built around these asshats, and not around those of us that are really in need of care.

Of course, when you arrive by ambulance due to an SVT (Supraventricular tachycardia), there is no question you are sick. My heart had hit a good 250 beats per minute before I hit the floor and then hit the gurney. Because recovery from an SVT can be quick, imagine my husband’s surprise when he met the ambulance at the hospital, and when the doors opened, all he could hear was roaring laughter. However, the laughter soon ended when the subsequent exhaustion from the episode took over. Still, I had already had time to charm the staff, and make it known that I was a “good patient” and would not be a problem.

What was I joking about in the ambulance? Easy: how I had totally screwed up every one’s chance to watch the Super Bowl. How I was going to be the one responsible for the number of beers being missed, and that I had perhaps saved them from a lot of heartburn from all the crappy food they were not going to be able to eat. I told them all I would give them permission to use my address from my records to send me thank you notes for this inconvenience that would only later be realized as the best gift they could receive. I then went on and on about how I was offended that I was not getting lights and sirens. This was followed by my impersonation of every staff member of the ER that I could remember, sadly that was only about a dozen of them, as I had only been to that ER about 20 times.

My daughter was in the front seat of the ambulance, and she too has a hell of a sense of humor, and was requiring the driver to explain every button and switch to her until she got him to give me the lights and siren I so desired, even if it was just for a moment. A cartoon of a paramedic using his mouth as his siren, much to his partner's dismay.

Humor really serves so many purposes in these grave times. Not only does it help everyone involved in the situation to forget, just for a moment that something pretty awful is going on, but the laughter releases endorphins that help that pain, even for just a few minutes.

My family is famous (in our own collective mind) for laughing through every tragic happening in our history. I know to some we must seem like awful people. To laugh at the greatest misfortunes to befall those closest to us. But, for us, we are a family that has managed to create the greatest memories out of even the worst of times. We have made the greatest love out of oceans of tears, we have turned pain into roaring giggles.

I have carried that tradition into my chronic illness, into my worst of medical nightmares. I can tell you that there are few doctors or nurses that have not forgotten me, and that serves me well. And, when I woke from my most recent surgery in what seemed like the blink of an eye from falling asleep, not believing that it all could have happened so fast, and I said to my doctor, “no way could you have done that so fast, get your ass back in there and get this shit done right!” I can tell you that the doctor that I have never seen even crack a smile laughed so hard he dropped his charts, his pen, and took his glasses off to wipe away his tears.

That right there is good stuff.






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