Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Is laughter the best medicine?

When is it ok to laugh? I remember everyone asking this question right after 9/11. When would it be ok for the late-night television joke-writers go back to work? In today's Science Times a psychiatry resident writes thoughtfully about the use of humor with patients.
If this were a friend or colleague, I would laugh easily. But this is a patient I barely know. He has bipolar disorder, a previous suicide attempt and a history of bizarre, impulsive behavior. In the context, his joke just feels inappropriate and overly familiar...I quickly glance around to take stock of the room. The nursing assistant laughs and the anesthesiologist grins broadly. The attending psychiatrist remains stone-faced and says, "Clearly he's improving."
"Laughter is always the best medicine" may be a familiar cliche, but that does not necessarily transfer into advice one can take into the trenches in every case. As a future clinician I always find these personal narratives about patient care fascinating. Maybe Dr. Brody should just play this for all his patients.


Sarah Salway said...

That's really interesting. I hadn't thought about this before but I suppose there's the professional awareness that laughter is a form of defense or barrier too.

Ted said...

Your thinking about this story makes me think of another profession where laughter can be thought unusual. Are you familiar with Peter Barnes's play Red Noses? In it a priest receives a message from the big boss to minister to the people during the black plague with laughter. He forms a clown troop. I'm sure you could mine a good writing prompt from all this.