I remember in my very serious, highfalutin job as a court psychologist, I was about to administer psychological testing to a rather defiant parent who resented the fact that she was ordered by the court to be evaluated. After our interview, I told her I wanted her to take the test I'd explained earlier and that I was now going to leave the room. I came back a while later to find a note on the table and the defiant parent nowhere to be found. The note read, "You told me to take the test. I did. I took it with me and left. And I'm not coming back to this place." That had to be one of the funniest experiences in my professional career. So much for me and my serious, highfalutin job. As you can tell, this hysterical incident didn't kill me. It actually made me do my job a lot better by explaining testing directions a bit more carefully.
Another humorous moment comes to mind. I remember the day I received my diagnosis of breast cancer a few years ago. I was sitting in the waiting room at the oncologist's office when suddenly, I heard my name called. You know the way they do it ... with that question mark at the end of it. You know what I mean. "Barbara Rubin?" Like maybe they weren't sure it was really my name or something, and were going to make me to confirm it was really me.
I sat there, looking around at all the people in the massive waiting room. Again they called out, "Barbara Rubin?" The first thing that popped into my head was how ironic it was that there was another Barbara Rubin there, waiting to be called in to hear her "good news," too. Gosh, I just couldn't believe what a weird coincidence that was. Then I realized... my brain had not been able to wrap itself around the idea that it was my name, me they were calling out to. On my way down the creepy hallway to the examining room, along with the fear, I remembered the pure joy at being able to laugh out loud, even though I also knew I was just moments from a dreaded conversation with my doctor about things like "prognosis" and "recurrence rate." It's almost like the humor helped me "clear the deck" so I could pay attention to the next conversation. Sure, it was breast cancer and all, but the diagnosis wasn't going to be any different if I let myself laugh just a bit before getting down to the "heart to heart" with my doctor.
It is absolutely true that in the face of adversity and with the variety of challenges each of us manages each day, there is always room for humor. Will you be negating the actual challenge before you if you turn on a Lucy rerun and laugh your head off before your next doctor's appointment? No. Not one bit.
I always thought doctors' waiting rooms should toss out the US News and World Report and have only joke books, or video loops of old Abbott and Costello shows running nonstop (especially the "Who's On First?" routine). Don't you agree? We could turn the entire medical community on its head if we made that happen. I guarantee we'd bolster our immune systems, have a more positive outlook and make better healthcare decisions if we managed our anxiety with a healthy dose of humor. Taking yourself so seriously is not all it's cracked up to be.
Go in peace and laughter.
Barbara Rubin is a psychologist in private practice in the King Plow section of Atlanta. She can be reached at DrBRubin@aol.com.