I was planning a post about medical humor when I found an article about that very subject. JAMA published the article November 6, 1920.
No, that is not a typo, it was 1920. But since I wasn’t around then to read it, I’m glad they republished it November 3, 2020 in a feature called JAMA Revisited. (JAMA is the Journal of the American Medical Association.)
In it, the unidentified author refers to another article published in 1920 titled “Two Medical Humorists”, one of whom was Oliver Wendell Holmes who he describes as
a master of style, all of his work illuminated
with numerous flashes of wit.
Oliver Wendell Holmes’ son Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., served as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1902 to 1932. Holmes Sr. was a physician and poet in the 1800s.
The author claimed that “a bit of humor now and then is welcomed by every class of thinkers, no matter how serious minded may be their daily routine”, and I agree, although I know people who seem to have no sense of humor, at least about some things.
What is humor?
And from the JAMA article –
What’s funny about illness?
Most of us find nothing “funny” about being sick, injured, disabled, or dying. But illness and its treatment can create situations that prompt “incongruous” reactions that can be funny, ironic, and satirical. Finding humor in situations that are anything but funny can relieve some of the fear, anxiety, and dread associated with threats to our well being.
Nothing will so quickly relieve the strain with which most laymen confront the physician as the kindly directed remark accompanied with a smile and a sense of humor.
Humor’s dark side
In 1968 an Army physician wrote a novel about his experiences serving as a surgeon at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. Dr. Richard Hooker’s novel spawned a successful play, a movie, and one of the most popular television series of all time, known simply as M*A*S*H, still in syndication. The movie won the Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award in 1970.
In the novel MASH, and the subsequent versions, Dr. Hooker used dark humor to depict the doctors, nurses, and other staff coping with practicing medicine in a war zone. Their pranks, wise cracks, and self deprecating humor distracted them from their loneliness, anger, and sense of failure when soldiers died despite their best efforts to save them.
We need humor in the profession. It is one of its necessary virtues. For who save ourselves live in such a milieu of disharmonies?
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Playfulness in a pandemic
Medical humor helps us fight the unexpected, unfair, and disruptive circumstances of disaster and disease , helping us cope with feeling powerless.
In 2020 when the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic sparked fear,confusion, and uncertainty, people took to social media with memes, cartoons,photos, and videos that testified to our resolve to overcome. I liked this video a high school principal produced and starred in. By taking a lighthearted approach to a serious situation, he demonstrated resourcefulness and resilience.
But let us also cling to humor, the antiseptic of life.
I share humorous medically related cartoons on my Facebook page every Friday. I choose them carefully, because I don’t want anyone to ever think I take their health issues lightly. I don’t, ever. But I agree with Merriam-Webster in that humor implies an ability to perceive the ludicrous, the comical, and the absurd in human life and to express these usually without bitterness.
If you don’t already follow me on Facebook, please do. Besides Fridays, somedays I share a Saturday Smile.
Unless otherwise noted, the quotes are from Some Medical Humorists which you can read at this link.
sharing the HEART of laughter
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