For many years I have said that there is a real career to be made doing stand up comedy at medical conventions and banquets. If continuing medical education conferences had a master of ceremonies like The Oscars, attendance would go up. The problem is that there is a type of humor that only those in medicine would find funny. In fact, the general public would find the humor morbid, dark and often distasteful. Physicians (and probably nurses, EMT and fire fighters) can do things the normal, non-medical person finds repulsive. We can talk about oozing skin wounds over a gourmet meal and never blink. We can actually eat food in the morgue while doing dissection (trust me, I know this first hand). We can see the most horrific trauma case, watch a person die or tell someone they have terminal cancer…..and then go have lunch (usually). It is not that we are cold or detached…..it is training. Medical school is an arduous process for a reason. The four years of undergraduate university teaches the basic language of science and medicine. The four years of medical school builds upon that and makes us fluent in this other language. Then you have a residency for 3 or 5 or 6 more years. It also baptizes us into the world of touching people in the most personal of ways.
Sometimes the baptism is by fire.
You get thrown into the emergency room at a Level 1 trauma center as a 3rd year medical student and suddenly you are sticking needles in people and invading their bodies in ways never previously done. There were times I got handed a scapel and told, “Make the incision!” I had never held a scapel fully gowned and scrubbed, yet I was handed the blade and EXPECTED to cut this stranger open. The scar they would have forever, made by my hand. You go home shaking because the adrenaline has worn off and your have to flicker through all the images and smells and emotions. I think it is like initial combat for soldiers.
You can become jaded and cynical. You can burn out. Or, you learn to compartmentalize and filter. You learn good boundaries and you don’t let everyone in. You don’t absorb. And you laugh.
Humor is not a mask. HumorÂ is not perfume covering body odor. Humor is a righteous bath. It chisels away that which hardens the heart. Laughter is the only antidote for the emotional toll. And then you find stuff like this: GIANT MICROBES and you laugh your ass off…. Honey, I brought you home herpes!!
I told you we were sick!!