When I saw the topic for today’s blog post, I began wracking my brain for a specific joke a patient has told me, but there isn’t one in particular that springs to mind. That doesn’t mean I am a complete straight-laced dullard who doesn’t enjoy engaging in humour with patients; quite the opposite. I love to laugh, and I think humour often helps patients, families, and the nursing staff deal with some truly horrendous, stressful times.
I have witnessed humour used as a tool to help patients deal with the extremely vulnerable position they are in. It seems to give them a sense of power and control. In the west of Scotland, I have observed this, particularly, with a lot of our male patients.
I will never forget the first day of my first ever placement in a vascular surgical ward. Many of the patients were in for below and above the knee amputations. At first, I was a little shocked. I had never seen an amputee in real life before; what would I say, what would I do? I didn’t want to put any potential discomfort I may have, due to my unfamiliarity, ahead of their care, but I didn’t want to make light of the situation either and seem insensitive. I was learning to bandage a stump on a patient before I had learned how to bandage a leg – I didn’t know what to say.
The patient, a lovely guy in his fifties, cracked jokes and was so funny throughout the procedure, which put both me and, I think, him at ease. He wasn’t alone in his humorous approach, and I was amazed by how people found the humour in their situations. It was so uplifting and inspiring. I have seen this replicated in many clinical situations, even at times where I didn’t expect it, like on my placements in oncology and palliative care.
Life throws a lot at us; I’ve seen patients and their families go through things I couldn’t possibly imagine. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I’ve been through some dark times, as I’m sure a lot of you have. Humour is often one of the best ways to get through them and stop us spiralling into the darkness. A smile, a laugh, a bit of “banter”, in fact, I’ve even had little old ladies have a cheeky flirt and try and set me up with their granddaughters (I didn’t have the heart to tell them), which all help to make impossible and often heartbreaking situations seem that little bit brighter and more hopeful. I think this is such an essential part of nursing and helps us to develop our therapeutic relationships.
Humour should be used with sensitivity and is not always appropriate; its therapeutic use is something you learn and develop over time alongside your interpersonal and communication skills. But, when used well, I say, why not, let’s all laugh. Life is too short, and the world is such an angry place. Everyone is happier when they are smiling and laughing: patients, their families and us nurses.