Where’s the humor in medicine?

“Come on, bring it on! Come on, bring it on!” the little girl repeatedly chanted behind the drawn curtain in the pre-op holding area. I pulled the curtain back and peered in to see my young patient in the bed and happy as a lark, her mother was sitting next to her trying to contain her laughter. Other patients and staff members giggled as they passed by, hearing this mantra from a three-year-old about to have surgery.

Ah, the joys of childhood. This young lady had no fear of the upcoming surgery. Of course, that touch of Versed may have had an effect, but heck, I’ll take anything that comes to make me laugh and brighten my day.

In the demanding environment of medicine and surgery, it behooves us to find a lighter, funnier side within the pervasive seriousness of our profession. Humor is virtually everywhere embedded in our lives whether in our workplace or outside it. And I daresay the more serious the circumstances, the more needed is the humor.

Sometimes you must look carefully with a clear and nonjudgmental mind; sometimes it will present itself smack dab in the middle of your workday. But despite location and circumstance, there is a funny side to things all around us.

“Hurry up, dear,” the mother of a five-year-old boy said as he was making the hard decision of what to choose from the prize box in our office. “I’m going to leave without you,” she chided, slowly making her way down the hall toward the reception area.

“Wait, wait!” he cried as he quickly grabbed a multicolored “bouncy-ball” and ran down the hall.

“Wait for me!” he shouted. “They [meaning my office staff and me] might take me away and take me to … to … college!”

Kids. What can you say? The funny stuff sometimes comes just as it is in obvious, spontaneous bouts of unforgettable expressions or behavior. The innocence of childhood is a prime breeding ground.

Adults can be a great source of humor as well. Sometimes an event shocks you to your core, not as a sudden piece of happenstance, but as a developing, insidious chain of events as occurred one day while a patient was arising from anesthesia after surgery.

She was in that transition between wakefulness and sleep when she shouted, “I need two Mikes! Give me two Mikes!”

The nurses and anesthesiologist looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders and kept silent since I didn’t have a clue as to what she was asking.

“Is she in the medical profession?” someone asked.

“No,” I replied. “I think she’s a school teacher.”

“Is she asking for two ‘mics’ [micrograms] of fentanyl?” someone asked.

“That’s too low a dose,” replied the anesthesiologist.

“Two Mikes!” she shouted again, eyes still closed but breathing and stable and not in acute distress.

So the anesthesiologist, in his infinite wisdom, asked the question, “What do you mean by ‘two Mikes?’” spoken slowly, word for word in an elevated voice.

“Two Mikes! A Mikey sandwich!”

“What is a Mikey sandwich?” he continued his questioning. None of us had a clue where this conversation was going.

“You know — a Mikey sandwich. One Mike in front and the other behind! Heh, heh,” she laughed, eyes still closed, in a post-anesthesia daze.

We all stared at one another in shock but sporting goofy smiles. One nurse then said, “Well, she must know two guys named Mike. Lucky gal.”

Though seemingly trivial at the moment, such events still make us smile in retrospect. Upon reflection long after, they take on greater meaning, even reveal some truths, and remind us to savor these moments, and absorb ourselves in the humor and absurdity and beauty in the commonplace all around us, every day.

Randall S. Fong is an otolaryngologist and can be reached at his self-titled site, Randall S. Fong, as well as his blog.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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