How a physician finds laughter during this dark time

As I write this, we are in dark times. Over 23,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, and there are half a million diagnosed cases – even with testing far from comprehensive. Most cities are on some sort of lockdown. Most of us have become hyperaware of hygiene and personal space in a way that only those thought of as germaphobes have – it’s now the norm. Individuals and businesses are suffering, and I can’t think of a single person who hasn’t been touched by COVID-19 either directly or indirectly.

I am an orthopaedic surgeon, with a subspecialty in sports medicine and arthroscopy. Because I do practice general orthopaedics, I treat a variety of fractures, and these are still considered urgent or at least require an in-person visit to be able to properly guide care. However, because so much of my practice is elective, with rotator cuff and ACL tears considered to be non-urgent in nature, both my patients and I have had to be, well, patient. Surgeries have been postponed, out of pure necessity, and I’m seeing many patients in the uncharted orthopaedic territory of telemedicine. But still, practice is much slower than I am accustomed to.

With my passion for writing and connecting digitally with others in health care and the general public, this “downtime” has allowed for an expansion of these interests. I’ve begun recording on my podcast, a multidisciplinary conversation between women who thrive in fields that traditionally they haven’t thought to be able to (or shouldn’t). I’ve spent more time than I ever could have imagined with my son – a wonderful by-product of the distancing measures. And I’ve found that I love to make my friends – and even strangers – find their laughter during this dark time.

My family and friends will often attest to this, how I get joy from getting a smile, a smirk, or even a head shake (I can see you trying not to laugh under there though). As I’ve grown as a clinician, I’ve become more comfortable with infusing humor – appropriately – with my patients, and I know that a shared laugh even as they are going through a time that isn’t the best in their lives is appreciated.

During this time, when I have worries about the health of my family, friends, patients, the general public, the economy, and how we will, as a society, bounce back from COVID-19, I also find that my coping strategies sometimes draws on finding humor in the everyday. It makes me feel good to laugh so hard that I cry. It makes me feel even better when I’ve made a friend do that. We can’t feel guilty about finding brief moments of normalcy – and hilarity – even as it often feels like the world might be burning down around us.

Nancy Yen Shipley is an orthopedic surgeon and can be reached at her self-titled site, NancyMD, and on Twitter @_nancymd and Instagram @_nancymd.

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