Coping: Dark Humor and Silver Linings

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    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 itís just that Iím hopelessly warped after thirty-odd years of nursing. Whatever, there are people (and Iím 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) sheís 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 didnít think it was funny and was furious at me because I LAUGHED at her pain.)

    Momís Alzheimerís is perhaps the first thing that has ever happened to my sister that she couldnít wrestle into submission by sheer force of will. (And it could be argued equally that itís happening to my mother, not my sister or that itís 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 cousinís wedding, and Mom loudly inquired ďNow WHOSE funeral are we at?Ē 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 weíd 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 Alzheimerís now, and she doesnít really know me or my sister. The silver lining to that is that I donít have to tell her I have cancer. It would just make her feel bad, and she doesnít know who I am (or why she should care) anyway. Although Iím probably a terrible person for thinking this, itís 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 canít 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 didnít 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, ďdoctorís ordersĒ about post biopsy care. ďDo not apply dog to chest until two weeks post biopsy.Ē 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 Jul 12, '12
    NoonieRN, Amy'sGrandbaby, DroogieRN, and 19 others like this.

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    About Ruby Vee

    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.

    Ruby Vee has '38' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'ICU/CCU'. From 'the Midwest'; Joined Jun '02; Posts: 8,615; Likes: 31,128.

    Read more articles from Ruby Vee

    17 Comments so far...

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    Love the attitude. Stay strong.
    merlee, prmenrs, and VivaLasViejas like this.
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    it is very encouraging to read your posts. I admire your sense of humor and positive outlook on things.. you're one strong nurse!
    Szasz_is_Right likes this.
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    Ruby - 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.
    NoonieRN, nrsang97, susan007, and 1 other like this.
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    wonderful 15-minute ted video on preparing for alzheimer's. you'd like it. see it on youtube.

    alanna shaikh: how i'm preparing to get alzheimer's - youtube
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    Ruby, 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.
    NoonieRN, nrsang97, and Ruby Vee like this.
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    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.

    Thank you!
    texasmum, Ruby Vee, and VivaLasViejas like this.
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    A *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.
    texasmum and VivaLasViejas like this.
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    This 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.
  11. 1
    Quote from grntea
    wonderful 15-minute ted video on preparing for alzheimer's. you'd like it. see it on youtube.

    alanna shaikh: how i'm preparing to get alzheimer's - youtube

    ​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.
    merlee likes this.

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