Coping: Dark Humor and Silver Linings
The same skills that help us cope with the night shift from hell and other horrible patient encounters help us to cope with devastating illness in real life. And vice versa. You can find a silver lining almost anywhere, and there are very few burdens that cannot be made a little lighter by laughing at them.
Coping with cancer is a lot like coping with nursing -- or life, even -- humor helps as does actively seeking the silver lining. Dark humor seems to help the most, or perhaps it's just that I'm hopelessly warped after thirty-odd years of nursing. Whatever, there are people (and I'm related to some) who have no sense of humor, and I cannot imagine how they cope when life throws them a curveball.
Strangely, though, there are people whom never seem to GET thrown the curveball. My sister is one and coincidentally (or maybe not so much) she's completely lacking in sense of humor. (She once stopped speaking to me for YEARS because I laughed when she told me a hysterically funny story about a patient biting the head off her brand new Littman stethoscope. She didn't think it was funny and was furious at me because I LAUGHED at her pain.)
Mom's Alzheimer's is perhaps the first thing that has ever happened to my sister that she couldn't wrestle into submission by sheer force of will. (And it could be argued equally that it's happening to my mother, not my sister or that it's happening to the whole family.)
Back when Mom was in the early stages of her illness, she and I used to laugh about it. The time my sister took Mom to her cousin's wedding, and Mom loudly inquired "Now WHOSE funeral are we at?"
Mom (once everything had been explained to her and she was back in the privacy of her own room) and I both thought it was funny, and for a couple of years we'd tell each other that story, get the giggles and be helpless to STOP giggling. My sister would get mad every time.
Mom is in the late stages of Alzheimer's now, and she doesn't really know me or my sister. The silver lining to that is that I don't have to tell her I have cancer. It would just make her feel bad, and she doesn't know who I am (or why she should care) anyway. Although I'm probably a terrible person for thinking this, it's a silver lining that when Mom gets abusive with the staff of her Memory Unit or loses or dentures or falls, my sister is the one who has to fly halfway across the country to deal with it. I have cancer. I can't travel right now. Two devastating illnesses, two silver linings.
I know that if Mom were herself, she would have laughed herself silly at my shock (and glee) when I ate my first post-operative hot dog and the mustard that fell off went all the way to the napkin on my lap instead of getting stopped front and center by my formerly enormous bosom. Fortunately, I have in-laws with wicked senses of humor. When I whined to Rosita about the breast biopsy that didn't hurt until the 25 pound dog bounced himself off my chest, she sent me, on an official order sheet from the hospital where she works, "doctor's orders" about post biopsy care. "Do not apply dog to chest until two weeks post biopsy." There was a whole page of orders written by Rosita and her co-workers and each one was funnier than the last.
Even though laughing makes my incisions hurt, somehow it makes the pain less and the coping easier. Go figure.Last edit by Joe V on Jan 10, '15
About Ruby Vee, BSN, RN
Ruby Vee has been a nurse for three decades and has used dark humor and silver linings to cope with her nursing career all along. Now she finds that they're helpful coping skills when life sends you a curveball.
Joined Jun '02; Posts: 13,721; Likes: 57,363.Jul 12, '12it is very encouraging to read your posts. I admire your sense of humor and positive outlook on things.. you're one strong nurse!Jul 12, '12Ruby - You are still teaching us, even from the other side of the bed. What a special gift you are to all of us. I love the dark wicked humor - let it all hang out and we will laugh right along with you.Jul 12, '12Jul 12, '12Ruby, you really need to write a book after you're well again....your unique point of view, your humor, and your big heart shine through your posts, and your writing skills make it real for those of us who've never experienced cancer personally. If ANYONE can get through this, it's you, because any cancer cells that may remain are going to be scared out of their rotten little wits by your determination. They haven't got a chance.Jul 12, '12I just had a long, ridiculous shift. Your aside about the patient biting off the head off the Littman made me laugh hysterically. I scared the cat.
Thank you!Jul 13, '12A *ahem* friend of mine just got diagnosed with cancer. She and her husband have been married for nearly two decades, and they have a lot of inside jokes. The newest one is this little card he made her. It is a plain index card with a pink "C" on it. It's the cancer card, which she keeps with her at all times and when there is some household chore that she doesn't want to do for no other reason than she just doesn't want to do it, she'll pull it to attempt to guilt him into doing it for her. It doesn't always work, but it gets a good laugh every time.
She's a newer nurse, too, and her husband didn't understand this development of dark humor among her and her nurse friends. Now he does.
Dark humor gets us all through our dark days.Jul 13, '12This was a great story. I even had to laugh at the "Doctor's orders" part. I think that laughter makes anything easier to deal with. I hope you stay strong and become better than ever.Jul 13, '12Quote from grntea
wow! that's great! i never looked at it that way, but she made lots of sense. so i guess i have to take up yoga, knitting and becoming a better person.Jul 13, '12Quote from soldiernurse22it was a hysterical story! my sister was in graduate school (she has a phd, and she's a suit at a large hospital chain, devoted to slashing budgets, cutting staffing and holding the bedside nurse accountable for any fallout from the above). she was working nights as a shift supervisor while going to school. one night she was called to the er because they'd admitted a patient who was so high on pcp that no one could get near him to examine him. what my sister lacks in clinical skills, she makes up for in sheer determination, so while the guy was attempting to leave the er on foot, taking tiny mincing steps because he was still attached to his gurney by four point leathers, she talked him into slowing down so she could listen to his chest.i just had a long, ridiculous shift. your aside about the patient biting off the head off the littman made me laugh hysterically. i scared the cat.
she was very proud of the brand new littman cardiology scope she had just purchased, and probably more than a little anxious to show it off. (most nurses didn't carry the cardiology scopes in those days.) she got close enough to put it on her patient's chest, and about that time, he wigged out. he was hopping around with the gurney still solidly attached, but did manage to break off the side rails by slamming them into the steel door frame. then he grabbed the brand new littman cardiology scope from around my sister's neck and bit the head right off of hit.
at my sister's scream of rage and fury, the cops descended on mr. pcp and attempted to get his mouth open to remove the littman. no dice. he swallowed that sucker, and it must have been a formidable feat. i cannot imagine how anyone could do such a thing.
gi was called urgently to the er, where they drugged the guy and scoped him. but they couldn't snag the littman and remove it safely, so or time was scheduled. meanwhile, my sister continued to carry on about her brand new littman cardiology scope, the expense of procuring it and what was she going to do in her clinicals without one? i wasn't there, but i can guess at just how obnoxious she was being.
mr. pcp went to the or and the foreign object was removed. one of the surgeons cleaned it up for her, placed it in a presentation box he just happened to have handy, gift wrapped it, and gave it to her. now to hear my sister tell the story, it was a wonderful gesture that surgeon made because of his deep and abiding respect for her. i'm thinking it was a joke. or even more in the lines of "you annoying twit, i'll see that you get your littman back!" i doubt much respect was present. but i could be projecting, i guess.
the whole story struck me as funny -- i was literally rolling around holding my sides, tears streaming down my face and laughing. my first clue that i was doing the wrong thing was when my sister sourly proclaimed "you're acting just like mother did when i told her. you just don't understand how expensive a littman cardiology scope is!" (no, not me, the ccu nurse who had her own littman cardiology scope.)
my sister was so furious she didn't speak to me for years. of course it didn't help that at a family dinner (which my sister was unable to attend), dad told the story to a bunch of my aunts and everyone at the table except my father was laughing 'til we peed our pants. someone told my sister about that dinner, and she stayed mad for a few more years.
i don't know how people live without a sense of humor. i just don't get it!
Jul 13, '12Ruby;
I'm thinking your sister probably would have stopped speaking to me also. I agree that the surgeon was probably not acting out of his deep abiding respect (though maybe he did have that) by gift wrapping the head of the littman.
Take care of yourself. Sending you good thoughts and strength.Jul 13, '12I would rather die than not be able to take a joke. I can have a pretty twisted sense of humor but you have to with so much of what we see and experience.
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