A good sense of humor can make a huge difference in accepting the punches life throws at you. My ability to laugh and joke about my circumstance has been extremely beneficial in getting me through some of the more difficult times in enduring six leg surgeries and disability. Humor can lighten the mood and make you feel better. I will certainly need to put my sense of humor in full throttle to get through waking up missing my lower left leg.
Wikipedia defines humor as “the tendency of particular cognitive experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement”. Over the years many studies have been done on the effects of humor and laughter on our health. These studies go back to Freud’s relief theory. The relief theory was summarized by Sigmund Freud as ‘laughter releases tension’. The theory also explains that laughter can be used as a coping mechanism to help when someone is angry or sad (Wikipedia). Laughter: The Best Medicine, an article in Psychology Today, states that ‘laughter reduces pain, increases job performance, connects people emotionally, and improves the flow of oxygen to the heart and brain”. So, it would seem that laughter and having a sense of humor can be a factor in helping us tolerate our adversities in life.
The other day I had to make a call to a co-worker to explain a situation that had arisen. I was not looking forward to the call for two reasons. The first being that my communication with this particular person always leaves me feeling cold. The second being that the email I was going to be responding to, in the call, had already set the problem up to be my mistake. This was not an earth-shattering problem and upon doing a little legwork (excuse the pun) I discovered that it was neither of our errors, just an unusual situation. Being who I am I attacked the phone call with pleasantries and of course humor. The conversation was very abrupt and to the point on the other end and my humor wasn’t reciprocated nor welcomed. Within a minute or two I was once again hanging up the phone with a cold and unsatisfied feeling. It was almost as if I had interacted with a machine as opposed to a person. The problem was solved but the conversation lacked warmth, friendliness and still left me feeling like I was in the wrong. As I reflected on what had just happened it occurred to me that it wasn’t that this person was rude or unfriendly, it was that they simply lacked any sense of humor. Therefore, they lacked the ability to laugh and respond to my sense of humor, making them come off as being abrupt and unfriendly. I found myself feeling bad for this person because I just couldn’t imagine how difficult life must be if you lacked the ability to soften life’s problems with humor.
My sense of humor has gotten me through a lot. I have always used humor at work – I find it helps me connect with coworkers, breaks the ice with clients and just makes the day more pleasurable. Sprinkling in a bit of humor also makes coping with problems a little easier and softens the blow of work issues. When I put a smile on my boss’s face and she says, “Darryl you crack me up,” I know all is well. As a teacher my humor set the right climate for learning. It was the hook that got the students’ attention. I have most certainly found humor to provide me with a coping mechanism to help me with difficult and painful situations I have had to endure. I have used humor to cope with doctors, nurses and the many medical procedures I have encountered over the past six years. I have used humor to cope with the crutches, casts, recoveries and pain. Somehow, making a quick joke before going under the knife or while getting to the bathroom when the pain wanted to crush me made it easier to cope. Not only making myself laugh, but getting the person caring for you to laugh just makes the adverse situation more tolerable. And it’s not restricted to my medical conditions either. I’ve found that anywhere in life, whether I am dealing with children or adults, the best way to break the ice and put things at ease is to attack it with a sense of humor. Life must be so much harder if you lack the ability to laugh at yourself and difficult situations.
One of the first situations in my leg debacle where I remember using my sense of humor was right after my first surgery. I had asked the nurse if I could go to the bathroom. After each surgery the number one thing on my mind is: I need to get to the bathroom to pee! My leg was completely numb from the hip down, rendering me with zero balance. I had a cast from my knee down to my toes and was facing the next few months of not putting any weight down on my leg. I was now about to experience my first trip to the bathroom under these conditions. The nurse helped me up on a walker and instructed me to slowly make my way as she walked behind spotting me. I had already been on crutches for several weeks, but having my leg completely numb and now, with the fear and knowing that accidently putting weight down on it could destroy the chances of it healing, made this experience a whole new ball game. As I made my way through the bathroom door and attempted to close it I ended up all entangled in wires, hospital gown and the walker. At that point I honestly didn’t know how I would manage the most basic human need of going to the bathroom. I was scared, upset, felt completely helpless and on the verge of freaking out. Somehow my natural sense of humor kicked in and I found myself joking and laughing about the ridiculousness of the situation I was in. The nurse said to me, “I can’t believe you are laughing and joking about this. It’s great and because you can laugh, you will have no problem getting through your recovery.” My response was, “What else is there to do but laugh? If I didn’t laugh I would be crying and that would only make the situation worse.” My sense of humor surprised and impressed many other nurses and doctors throughout my next five surgeries. Sometimes I don’t think they found humor in the situations I got myself in, but that’s okay – it helped me. My almost-fall in the bathroom after surgery #5, insisting I had to turn the walker around so I wouldn’t accidently pee on it, and my helping the nurse by pulling my IV out myself after surgery #6, causing blood to spurt out all over the place… both had me in hysterics but my nurses frowning.
Not surprisingly my wife shares my sense of humor and has also been able to use humor to cope with my surgeries and disability. We have survived this whole ordeal by making light of so many difficult situations that could have easily caused both of us complete despair. We have found the humor in the leg, the crutches, the dreaded bathroom trips, the stupid things people have said and all the difficult little things this injury/disability has created. I can be frustrated with something I am having difficulty doing and something as simple as my wife saying “who could do that with a ‘mutant foot’?” can make us both laugh and improve my mood. We have laughed and joked about the “mutant foot”, about my deliriousness while on heavy doses of pain medication, figuring out ways to have someone else pee for me and joked many times about ways my leg could accidently be taken off, solving the amputation decision. Some of the methods we came up with were to:
In a few short weeks the “mutant foot” will be no more. I have used humor for the past few months in preparing my family to cope with the amputation. I have joked with my kids about keeping my foot in a jar of formaldehyde. We have all laughed, joked and theorized about where to store it, how to scare young children on Halloween with it, who to send it to and even suggested sending it to college with my 18 year old daughter, telling her she would then always have a part of me with her. I have also purchased a collection of humorous tee-shirts on the subject of being one-legged. The “mutant foot” has affectionately already been replaced with “Stumpy”. Somehow, referring to living with “Stumpy” just makes both my wife and I laugh. Just swimming by my wife and then commenting “you will be creeped out when I swim by with stumpy” made us both laugh and joke about attaching one of those swimming flippers to it. It gets the topic out there, discussed and sure beats crying about the situation.
Hey, let’s look on the bright side: I will have five less toenails to clip, my socks will last twice as long and I will reduce the risk of stubbing a toe by 50%.
In dealing with my six surgeries and disability I have gotten into situations that could have caused me extreme frustration and made the recovery impossible to endure. Instead, I was able to joke and laugh about it, completely reversing not only my mood but the moods of the people around me. I have to be honest, I am scared to death about my upcoming surgery day, but I know my sense of humor will kick in and will somehow make some tough days ahead more tolerable.
My sense of humor is an amazing coping mechanism and I just can’t imagine how difficult going through life would be without being able to find humor.
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