In the 1998 movie Patch Adams, Robin Williams portrayed the story of Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams and his book, Gesundheit: Good Health is a Laughing Matter.
The gist of the story – and Dr. Adams’ approach to medicine in real life – is that his patients’ health improves when laughter and compassion are included as part of the treatment.
Medical studies also have proven that the use of humor helps diminish a patient’s response to pain. Other studies indicate that a little laughter can help relieve a lot of anxiety.
Dr. Michael Bigham has witnessed this firsthand.
As a critical care specialist in Akron Children’s pediatric intensive care unit, he sees patients and their families during the most stressful of times. Often, he hasn’t met the family before and therefore doesn’t have an established relationship to rely upon.
Like many other practitioners, Dr. Bigham says he has a “go to” joke he uses with many of his patients to help break the ice. It goes something like this: “What did the number zero say to the number 8? ‘Nice Belt.’”
“In the pediatric intensive care unit, the children and their families often feel vulnerable and afraid,” Dr. Bigham said. “Children and their parents need to be able to identify the medical and nursing staff as people, who have a personal commitment to their child’s recovery. As often as is appropriate, I have used humor to help in building both the doctor-child and doctor-family relationship – recognizing that humor is part of who I am as a person. And if in those moments of vulnerability and fear, I can evoke a child’s smile or laughter that trust can be built quickly.”
“Sometimes kids are scared to go to the doctor and get a check-up so I try to use different techniques, including humor, to ease their worry and make them relax so I can get a better exam.” – Dr. Sabrina Ben-Zion
Laughter is also a frequent sound in the pediatrician’s office, where children undergoing their well-child appointments are just learning who their doctors are and why they’re sitting in their offices in the first place.
“Sometimes kids are scared to go to the doctor and get a check-up so I try to use different techniques, including humor, to ease their worry and make them relax so I can get a better exam,” said Dr. Sabrina Ben-Zion, a pediatrician in the Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics’ office in Wadsworth. “This may be playing peek-a-boo, making funny faces, or pretending I don’t know where to check their heart. For example, I ask them if it is on top of their head or at their elbow.”
Everyone appreciates a good laugh, no matter what age. Dr. Ben-Zion said one of the best perks of working with children day in and day out is that often it’s the kids themselves who are dealing out the daily dose of humor.
“Kids are full of such joy and humor,” Dr. Ben-Zion said. “It is often what they say that gets me to chuckle!”