What time did the man go to the dentist? Tooth hurt-y.
Why do chicken coops have only 2 doors? Because if they had 4 doors they’d be chicken sedans.
I used to have a job at a calendar factory but I got the sack because I took a couple of days off.
I know, I know, these are all terrible jokes, but all jokes I’ve had to employ for one of my patients. Recent admit to the Emergency Department, and patient sits around for hours before being seen. He’s 94, and comes in with complaints of a single episode of lightheadedness. Oh, and he also has a heart rate around 40, what we call bradycardia. The team comes in to check on him and take a thorough history and physical. As we work our way through questions, we find our patient to be responding to jokes, sarcasm, and tangential commentary. A bit frustrated, we push on, pulling for any semblance of history we can write in our admit notes. Rounding the end of our interview, the patient chimes in, “You need a couple of comedians to come through the ED. All you bring is pills. Pills of different colors. And the colors don’t do anything.”
He brings up a good point. We spend a lot of time learning how to be astute diagnosticians. We also learn how to be efficient. Just the facts, ma’am. When there are so many patients sick and with needs, we are taught that there is no time to stop and talk. Time is precious. Sleep even more so. So we put aside the jokes and the joy in favor of the diagnosis and management. Yes, we are here to provide patient medical care, but care also means providing comfort. Some patients need humor, need distractions, need joy.
And there actually are studies that support the utility of laughter in medicine. One such came out in 2009, called Laughter Prescription, by William Strean, sums up the utility of humor in multiple specialties and actually has biological benefit. It’s interesting to think about how we don’t discuss incorporating laughter as a tangible strategy in our clinical care. We talk about compassion and empathy, but not laughter. As Groucho Marx remarked, “A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast.”
He ended our interview simply with, “It helps to live a little bit,” and his words stay with me. In our fast-paced medical education, it’s easy to get preoccupied with our careers and with our patients. So as I round the wards, I will keep a few jokes in my arsenal, and remember that fun and joy are not deferred until after school.