Several years ago, 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”. Along those same lines, when my grandfather was alive he would also give me the daily “bowel update”, sometimes in the lobby of the retirement community he lived in and I worked at while on the way to my office.
Both my aunt and my grandfather had multiple health issues and spent more than her fair share of time in hospitals and rehab centers before her passing in 2013. Anyone having 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”? At some point sharing this information becomes second nature.
The irony of that conversation was that were sitting in a Dr.’s office with my Mom, a breast cancer survivor, for a follow-up appointment after her mastectomy. I remarked to my sister that “As caregivers our lives are all about 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 the health challenges of those I help care for seriously. I have spent many sleepless nights praying for God’s healing. Equally; having worked in healthcare for the better part of 25 years I recognize that the appropriate use of levity can help to put us at ease in the midst of the chaos and stress associated with caring for people we love.
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 (1979), 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.
**In honor of my Mom and all of the other women still fighting the fight against Breast Cancer, through the end of the year 50% of my book sales will go to support breast cancer research. **
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