Old Testament, Proverbs 17:22: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
When humor is used as a method of healing, I like to refer to it as “humor healing”. Research has shown that humor healing or humor therapy can reduce pain, relieve stress, and boost the immune system helping the body remain free of disease .
I have used humor healing in critical events in my own life having survived both a heart and a kidney transplant. The following accounts one of those humor healing experiences.
In early 2000, I admitted myself to hospital when my heart function was at an all-time low. It required ongoing medication to keep it beating forcefully enough to maintain the everyday functions of life – eating, breathing, thinking, and so on.
I needed a heart transplant, but had to wait until one became available. The plan was to keep me alive until then, so I was hooked up intravenously to a drug called “dobutamine” 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This drug was needed to keep my heart beating effectively. I became a full-time resident of the cardiac care unit (CCU) at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada. While plugged in to the dobutamine, I was able to live a normal life, albeit from a single room on the 16th floor of a hospital.
Every couple of weeks, the cardiac care unit was managed by a different senior cardiologist of the hospital. I had no problem with that, in fact, who better to be in charge than the best the hospital had to offer. What I did have a problem with, was that every two weeks, the new managing doctor would try to wean me off of my life-sustaining drug – to see if my heart would operate well enough on its own. I dreaded this practice because every time they performed the slow, controlled reduction, I gradually slumped over, shrivelled up, and returned to the weak, sickly state in which I originally entered the hospital. No matter how I complained, this practice continued. It seemed as though each successive doctor did not read the previous doctors notes, and performed the procedure as if they were the first to think of it. Brilliant!
One day I was approached by a specialist who dealt with outpatient pain management. She came up with an idea to use a CADD (Continuous Ambulatory Delivery Device) pump – a pump mainly used for patients to administer their own pain medication like morphine – to continuously infuse the dobutamine in a small, easily hidden, portable device I could wear under my clothes. With this device, I could get day passes and leave the hospital from time to time.
“Bonus!”, I thought, and couldn’t wait to learn how to use it. Since I was the only one going to wear it, I was the only one taught how to operate it. No nurses on my floor were shown how to operate the device.
Then came my first day-pass day. My mother was coming to take me to dinner. I checked with the nurses to see when the outpatient specialist would be coming by with my CADD pump. Yes, the pump and supplies had been dropped off, but the specialist had gone home for the day. I was a little surprised by this but then thought, “Maybe she is confident I can do it myself. No problem.”
I disconnected myself from the dobutamine drip and hooked up the CADD pump with the dobutamine cassette inside. I programmed the pump, and then I was off. Freedom! This was the first time I had left the hospital in four months. As I left the cardiac care floor, one of the nurses reminded me to, “Take it easy and don’t try to do too much the first day”.
Outside it was hot and humid. I was still fairly weak and so even subtle temperate changes could affect me. We made it to the car parked in a nearby lot and headed out. My mom was taking me to a new Chinese food restaurant she had discovered recently. She said it was better than any she had been to by far. While she drove, I looked down at the pouch around my waist which contained the CADD pump and made sure it was running right and that the tube line wasn’t getting pinched at all. After all, this was my lifeline. By the he looks of it, everything was okay.
When we got to the restaurant, I had to say, my mom was right. It was a spectacular buffet with everything one could desire. I loaded up my first plate and sat down. When I started to eat, I felt full shortly thereafter. This wasn’t right. I had had a steady diet of hospital food for the last four months and was due for something different. At the hospital I was always hungry. The portions they gave me were never enough for man of 6’3”. Here, I could have all I wanted but for some reason my appetite had vanished.
I grabbed the menu to check to see if they used MSG (monosodium glutamate) in their food preparation. I usually got a bloated feeling from MSG so I thought that this may have been the problem. “NO MSG” was written in bold red on the menu, so that answered that question. I decided to grab some soup instead because for me, soup always made me feel better.
After the meal, we left the restaurant and were driving through the city of Toronto. With the humidity, it was getting very stuffy in the car so I pressed the power window button to get some air. That was worse. I mentioned to my mother that the smog in Toronto was getting out of control, because I felt like I couldn’t get a full breath of air. With the windows open or closed, I struggled to get sufficient oxygen.
We had planned to do more that day but since I wasn’t feeling that well, we decided that was enough for the first day and returned to the hospital. It was past visiting hours at the hospital so my mom and I said our goodbyes and I headed back to the CCU alone.
On the CCU floor, I ran into a patient who was returning for a top-up. That’s what would have happened to me if I was able to get a recharge from the dobutamine instead of having to be on it all the time. Many patients, after suffering significant cardiac deterioration at home, would return to the hospital for a few days, get back on the drip, get recharged, and then be discharged again for another few months or so. That’s the top-up. I stood in his doorway for what seemed an eternity, chatting and catching up. Finally he said, “You look very tired, I’ll let you get back to your room”. “Thank goodness!”, I thought. I was about ready to fall over.
Back in my room. I disconnected the CADD pump and while I was reconnecting the dobutamine drip, I noticed that the incremental units were different. “How could that be”, I wondered. My mind went back to the CADD pump training and everything at that time was all in the same units. It just did not seem right. Then I looked at the CADD pump and more specifically to the cassette inside, and to my surprise, all the units of measurement were different than that of my regular drip and that of the pump we trained on. Furthermore, based on my understanding of the relative differences in the units, I HAD BEEN ON LITERALLY NO DOBUTAMINE WHILE I WAS OUT! This was confirmed when I opened the pump to visually check the cassette and it was virtually full.
I thought about this for a while and I just had to laugh. It was all I could do. I wanted my day out so bad, I hooked up the CADD pump without even checking the units. As a result, I didn’t notice that the pump I was given was different from the one I trained on.
Now it all made sense, the lack of appetite at the restaurant, my inability to breath in the car, and how tired I was while talking to my top-up friend, made me realize that I inadvertently performed my own reduction of dobutamine during my day out. The thing I dreaded the most, I perpetrated on myself. All the things I thought that were going wrong that day were really a result of my heart function slowly deteriorating and leaving me in the weakly state I normally become without dobutamine.
In looking back at how I felt every time the doctors performed the reduction, versus how I felt when I mistakenly did it myself I have to say it was somehow different. The debilitating effects were not as bad. In retrospect, I have to conclude that the difference in how I felt was due to the humor of the whole situation. Would I have ever done that wittingly? Never! At that time, it really was comical and humor healing helped to relieve the stress and reduce the pain that normally accompanies the reduction process.
All in all, it was a beneficial experience because not only did humor healing help me in what would normally be a painful situation, but when I told the doctors what had happened, they agreed that it was as close to a blind test as they could have wished for. All suspicions that I was merely acting subdued in order to remain in the hospital were allayed. From that day on, no other doctor tried to titrate my dobutamine again. As far as I’m concerned, humor healing really works.
If you are facing an illness, remember to use humor healing. Maintaining a positive outlook and a sense of humor will keep your body open to healing. Don’t wait until you are ill before you try humor healing. Laughing regularly will help to make sure you stay healthy and can add enjoyment to your life and reduce your daily stress.