Meet the doctor who really believes that laughter is the best medicine

So there’s this 60-year-old African American physician, and she is fed up. She’s working at a local hospital because she wants to sleep in her own bed rather than continue the life of a locum tenens. After a weekend call where she’s on her 29th hour in the OR in two days with only three hours of sleep, she refuses to do another case. “I’m tired,” She says, “I’m sleepy. I’m done!”

“Get back here,” They say, “It’s in your contract. You have to.” And this woman gets even more fed up. It’s a lot more work than she expected, and she has these MBAs in the C-suite telling her what to do. She thinks to herself, “I’ve been practicing longer than most of them have been alive! Over 30 years!”

That woman is me. I leave the hospital.

When I return to work, I’m told to go to the chief’s office. It’s the size of a broom closet. No windows. Real stuffy. The diminutive male sitting behind a desk says to me, “You’re not a team player. You can’t just leave when you’re on call.”

I’m thinking, “If I hurt a patient because I fall asleep, isn’t that worse for both of us?” As he yells, his eyes widen, and he points his tiny index finger at me. I lose it. “You’re an idiot!” I say. I storm out of the broom closet.

The next thing I know, I’m doing a perp walk out of the hospital with a female security guard at my side. Who knew that name-calling, even if it’s the truth, is a fireable offense?

It could have been a scene from Orange is the New Black with me in Suzanne’s role. You know, the character they call “crazy eyes”?

If they knew how many pairs of scrubs I’d “borrowed” in my brief time as an employee physician there, I might have been charged with some crime. But I guess my humiliation walking past my colleagues as I leave the building, glaring at everyone with my what the french toast “crazy eyes”, makes the administration’s day and is well worth the cost of those pilfered scrubs.

I am an example of what happens if you cross the line. I look at their faces and hear them thinking, “There but for the grace of God … or, in this case, the C-suite … She could be me!”

Outside of the hospital, hospital badge deactivated, I contemplate my future. “Man, this is a real bummer. Lost my job, lost my parking spot, lost my access to the lounge.” I wander for about two minutes and then walk over to the surgicenter across the street.

“Hey! Y’all need an Anesthesiologist?”

They say, “Yeah! You available?”

I say yes and take the job. No nights. No weekends. No call. Nirvana!

But something’s bugging me. I want to do something else. But what? The answer comes to me in a deep sleep. I sit bolt upright in bed and shout, “I want to be a stand-up comic, lounge singer, voice-over actor!”

I hire a voice-over coach, and after setting up an expensive home sound studio, paying him the big bucks, and sending several demos, he keeps asking for more money. With no ROI, I tell him over the phone, “You’re a conniving idiot. I’m done with you, sonny!”

“Idiot” might be my favorite word.

Moving onto comedy, I go to my first open-mic. I arrive at 9 p.m. I’m wearing a set of green scrubs and have a stethoscope around my neck. I’m nervous as I clutch my notecards, but I don’t go on until after 10 p.m. I drink two glasses of red wine and doze off at my table. It’s way past my bedtime.

“And now for your comic enjoyment, let’s hear it for Dr. Lynette Charity!”

I look around the room and suddenly realize, “Oh, that’s me!”

I make my way to the stage and look out at the full house. The wine is helping. I take a deep breath.

“Hey, everybody. That’s right, I’m Dr. Lynette Charity, and I’m an anesthesiologist! I get paid to “pass gas.”

They laugh. They laugh! I go on. Some jokes hit, some bomb, but I’m doing it! And when I’m done, I feel great.

A few days later, I’m in the operating room. A patient sits bolt upright on the stretcher and stares at me, “Wait a minute. I know who you are.”

My face drops. That statement can only mean, “You’re getting sued today.”

“Sir, what is your concern?” I ask.

“Didn’t I see you at the comedy club a few days ago?”

Smiling, I reply, “Why yes?”

“So you’re a REAL doctor? I thought that was just your schtick.”

“No schtick. I’m a real Anesthesiologist. Ask the surgeon.”

“You’re a real Anesthesiologist?” the surgeon answers. He pauses with a big smile on his face and then follows with, “Sir, we don’t allow fake doctors in here. Everyone has to have REAL doctor papers.”

I reassure the patient that I know my stuff. He lies back down, and I push the propofol. Off to sleep he goes. When he awakens in the recovery room, in his euphoria, he tells everyone, “Dr. Charity is a great anes … anes …gas passer! She’s funny too!”

I continue to make people laugh with my comedy every chance I get. But as a professional speaker, I do keynote presentations on the difficult topics of depression and suicide using a dash of humor. Medicine is our calling, but my sisters and brothers, it ain’t supposed to kill us!

Laughter pushes me through. It releases endorphins. A good guffaw can burn 40 calories. And it’s hard to be depressed after hearing a joke that has you rolling around on the floor laughing your gluteus maximus off.

More than ever, we need to incorporate humor into our lives. It’s not the cure for all that ails us from our broken health care system, but it certainly helps.

Lynette Charity is an anesthesiologist, author, humorist, and award-winning international speaker. She can be reached at Dr. Charity Speaks and on Instagram @keynotecharity.

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