My sister shared with me that when she called our Aunt to wish her a “Happy Birthday” her reply was “I had a bowel movement today”, to which I commented “well then that was a happy birthday for her wasn’t it”. My Aunt has had multiple health issues over the last few years and has spent more than her fair share of time in hospitals and rehabs; anyone who has cared for someone in these settings know that the staff asks certain questions on a daily basis one of which is “did you have a bowel movement”. As some point sharing this information just becomes second nature.
The irony of the conversation we were having is that we were sitting in a Dr.’s office with my Mom, a breast cancer survivor, while she was having a follow-up to her recent hospital stay. Because of her breast cancer and the surgeries that followed we have also spent a lot of time accompanying my Mom to her appointments which consist of everyone who enters the room checking her boobs. My Mother has always been a private person, however; since her diagnosis we often joke that she’s come to flash anyone who walked into her hospital room (including housekeeping). I remarked to my sister that “As caregivers our lives have become boobs and bowel movements”, to which my Mom replied “sorry about the boob part.”
Don’t take my joking to mean that I don’t take either my Mom or my Aunts health challenges seriously. They are very serious and I have spent many a sleepless night praying that God will heal them and I will get many more years with these amazing women. However; having worked in healthcare for well over 20 years I also realize that the appropriate use of levity can put others, as well as me, at ease.
When things get too serious humor can help get us through the tough times without losing our minds. Studies have shown that using humor and being able to laugh during stressful time can:
- Improve brain functioning
- Blood pressure initially increases when we laugh, however; after the laugh it decreases to levels below normal
- Protect the heart
- Foster instant relaxation
- Connect you with others
Norman Cousins, in his book Anatomy of an Illness, also noted that 10 minutes of belly laughter (just counting the laughing time) would give him two hours of pain-free sleep. Over a dozen studies have now documented that humor does have the power to reduce pain in many patients.
Humor draws attention away from the source of discomfort–at least momentarily and for those of us struggling to support and manage the care of those we love, it can be just what the doctor ordered.