As some of us grow older (after all, I can't claim to speak for everyone), we sometimes forget our sense of humour. Life becomes serious. We have children, we have become bosses at work and need to set professional examples and life sometimes sends us a curveball or two. All this can put a damper on our laughter gauge.
One of my life's curve balls was being diagnosed with breast cancer. Although this is not usually something that would predispose a person to rediscover their sense of humour, it ignited the spark that sent me on that path.
My warped sense of humour came out when I was placed in the maternity ward following my 10 and a half hour operation for a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. There I was, lying in bed, feeling like, as my doctor had warned me, a truck had just run over me. I couldn't see my legs because of the big astronaut boots that were covering them. All was quiet in the room, but for the whirl of the machine pumping air into the boots that would massage my legs and keep deadly blood clots from forming. As I said, all was quiet in my room, but from the hallways sounds of tiny newborn cries filtered in through the door, with the sticky sound of the nurses' running shoes hurrying after them.
Maybe this was a sign... Could it be my rebirth? Was I given a get out of jail free card and awarded a second chance at life? I laughed at the irony of the situation.
I couldn't have the answers to these questions so soon after surgery, but looking back I get a little chuckle when I think of the nurses that were scheduled to care for me. The terrified looks in their eyes when they had to come in my stifling hospital room (there was a heat wave at the time, and the rooms on the maternity floor were not air conditioned) with a unit of blood, and had to calculate the speed that the blood would be transfused into my body so it would be complete before it went bad. The constant need for pain medication that had to be injected, because I was too weak at the end of my operation for the surgeons to insert a port.
All this stressed them silly! And as I slowly started feeling better, the nurses became harder to find. One morning, during my week long stay at the hospital, my morning nurse dropped in to tell me her name, and indicate she would care for me during the day. I quickly thanked her, and asked her where she thought we (my mother spent the entire day my bedside during my hospital stay) could find her if we needed something.
Those poor nurses. They simply preferred caring for what they knew best: newborn babies and the mothers who gave birth. Happy situations, the continuing of life, and promise of the future.
Had they only realized...
But it was several weeks later, my recovery well under way and my pathology results delivered, that I really started to rediscover my sense of humour. I was prescribed eight rounds of chemotherapy, and I would go with either a family member or a friend to each one of them. I was sitting in the oncology ward waiting room following my blood tests. Although this ward has since undergone some important renovations, it used to be a dark and sad place. The white walls had tuned a light shade of gray and were peeling in places. The patients waited with brows furrowed and a look of deep depression or concern on their face. Their chemotherapy partners sat next to them in silence; some reading a year-old magazine, others staring into space and perhaps looking for answers of their own.
And it was during these times that I realized what was missing there. Laughter. And it was laughter that I brought to them... my own.
One particular time I was sitting there with my sister, Susan, waiting for my next treatment. These sessions were also a way for me to catch up with my family's news and the latest happenings. More often than not you would hear the two of us roaring with laughter while we were sitting there. At times I really felt self-conscious and was worried that I was disturbing my fellow warriors.
Now I realize that I was probably putting some light in their life. In fact I believe there should be more sources of laughter and inspiration in all cancer wards. Instead of all those frayed magazines that thousands of nervous patients or their companions leaf through while waiting to see their doctors, why not add a little humour? It could be the catalyst of a much better life for the patient and make a world of difference to their well being.
Laughter may not be the only medicine, but is sure can make a difference in a patient's recovery. I remember the days when I was young. I used to laugh a lot. Sure, I had a warped sense of humour, but it really helped me through some tough times. And that sense of humour has come out again... possibly more warped than ever. After all, only someone as crazy as me can laugh at my youngest daughter, Emma's tissue joke over and over and over again.
So Emma, how do you make a tissue dance? You put a little boogie into it! Go ahead, laugh. I know you want to!