Is health care, with all its woes and worries, ever a laughing matter? Not so much. But if you read the comics and best-selling novels, it is sometimes. Characters gently, or even wickedly, poke fun at us poor humans trying to figure out something that seems beyond us. To wit: Stephan Pastis’ weekly strip “Pearls before Swine,” starring Pig and Rat. In Raleigh’s Sunday News & Observer goes this way:
Pig: I heard you went to the doctor this morning.
Rat: Yeah, my foot’s been hurting me.
Pig: How’d it go?
Rat: Well, I spent the first 45 minutes filling out insurance forms. But then it turned out my insurance didn’t cover it. Then I spent an hour in the waiting room. Then waited another 15 minutes in the examination room. Then the doctor finally came in and looked at my foot and said…”Just give it some rest.” So I kicked him in the face. Hope he enjoys his trip to the doctor.
Pig: Hope you used the other foot.
Then there’s the best-selling lawyer/novelist turned health care humorist, John Grisham. In The Litigators he describes a clueless, hapless small law firm taking on Big Pharma in a massive class action suit. With obvious affection, the author dubs his heroes as “the three stooges,” in their pursuit of quick riches.
Their target is Varrick Labs, famous for success in surviving gazillions in settlements for a “denture cream that caused zinc poisoning…a stool softener that backfired and clogged things up…a migraine remedy that allegedly caused high blood pressure…and a high blood pressure pill that allegedly caused migraines” –and these were only half the cases on page 138! Spoiler alert: the stooges don’t really perform that well and there are genuinely sobering parts, but there’s also a sweet, even happy ending.
Some of this seems painfully funny. But what about real pain? What’s so funny about that? Well, nothing, of course. But humor has been known to help even the most serious of illnesses. Credible researchers have documented it, and personal experience bears it out.
Many years ago a young family close to me was travelling home from summer vacation. The youngest child was complaining about poison ivy on her hand. It itched and had become swollen, angry and blistery. Most unattractive, and most vexing. The anxious father, driving the large family station wagon, told the mother he thought they should stop at the next hospital to have the rash treated. So they began to look for an exit while the mother prayed silently for their child. She remembers affirming the child’s pure and unbroken relationship with her Father-Mother God, another name for Love. This Christly view of their daughter brought calm and confidence to her thought.
Suddenly, the parents heard giggles in the back seat. The little girl’s older sister and brother were clowning around and had begun to tease her, not unkindly, but in a way that made the whole poison ivy thing look ridiculous. She joined them in laughter. Pretty soon the children were exploding in guffaws, and the parents had to join in– it was so infectious. The father rolled his eyes in amusement and said, “Any child who can laugh at poison ivy doesn’t need to go to any hospital.” And so they drove on home.
The family’s fear and worry began to dissolve. The rash improved and then disappeared in a few days without any medical intervention.
I don’t recommend that we suspend compassion and caring for those who are sick and suffering. This is serious business. But I do believe that humor, a most healthy state of thought, has a place in our health care system. I smile just thinking about it.
(Cynthia Barnett is the Media/Legislative Representative for the The Christian Science Committee on Publication, NC.)