Comedy is Medicine

I’m going to share three stories – all of which occurred within a week.

The first is about me:

I had an awful day in the hospital. It was busy, stressful, and to make things worse, a patient that I was looking after sadly passed away. I came home to an empty apartment – it was quiet, stagnant. Unsurprisingly, I felt sad. And exhausted. I turned on the TV to find Stephen Fry’s QI. I immediately felt lifted, full of joy, full of energy. Somehow all my worries disappeared instantaneously. Comedy had rapidly cured this sudden onset of depression, and it was obviously so.

This leads to my second story:

Only days later, on a quiet Saturday night in a high dependency unit, was I caring for an older chap whose prognosis wasn’t good. He likely didn’t have long to live. He knew this. He was understandably feeling low, as I had been only a few nights earlier. As such, he didn’t talk very much. He just lay there in his bed, purposely avoiding conversation with the nursing staff – what’s the point?

His eyes were lifeless, yet his vitals on the monitor were absolutely normal. As I was about to do some routine examinations and blood work, he turned on the TV. Once again – it was Stephen Fry’s QI. Immediately his lifeless eyes appeared full of joy. I, too, became joyful.

We had a minute together laughing. No stethoscope. No needles. Just a TV – with brilliant comedy.

We were lost in that minute; I didn’t feel like a doctor – and I don’t think he felt like a patient.

It was a minute of genuine humanity – in a setting which can seem so inhumane.


This leads me to my third story:

A few days later, a chap I was looking after had just come back from major surgery. One day post op, the surgeon looked at me and said:

“Jon, I don’t think he’s going to make it.”

I thought the same.

If this was inevitable, the least I could do was to spend more time with this fellow, telling silly jokes and making conversation.

Now most doctors have a ‘go to’ joke, or a joke they just can’t get enough of. And it’s inevitably not funny, despite the doctor telling this particular joke repeatedly. It’s the kind that medical students give a token laugh to in order to make sure they pass their rotations.

As I went to chat to this fellow, I pulled the curtain round the bed and unleashed my standard phrase:

“Let me just pull these sound proof barriers around…”

(I laughed writing that…)

It caused the slightest of smirks on this gentleman’s face. We continued to chat. I continued to make silly jokes. But they worked – he seemed to improve exponentially.

A day or two later, the surgeon popped his head into the ward and noticed his patient stuffing his face full at breakfast.

“JON! What did you do!”

I had to simply say, “Nothing”.

Of course, this was in the medical sense, for I really didn’t do anything special for him medically. But I did spend a lot of extra time cracking silly jokes and making him smile, which in turn helped his mood, helped him to eat more, and ultimately get over a potentially life threatening operation.

I’ve been thinking about how to quantify joy, or happiness. It’s very difficult.

I can’t measure it in a routine blood test.

I’m not even sure I can describe how one can see it in another’s eyes, without an obvious supplementary smile, yet you can tell it’s there – I’m sure you know what I mean.

Doctors always talk about evidence-based medicine.

Does comedy cure?

Well I suppose a keen researcher would have to put together a well designed study comparing those receiving comedy and those that don’t, then compare outcomes.

I know I’d hate to be a patient in the study that doesn’t receive comedy.

I’ve got my own opinion – Comedy is Medicine.

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