Cincinnati Enquirer

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Healthy funny bones

Laughter is good medicine; folks have to remember to prescribe it for themselves

By Peggy O'Farrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A man calls the doctor's office. “My wife is pregnant, and her contractions are only two minutes apart!”

        “Is this her first child?” the doctor asks.

        “No, you idiot! This is her husband!”

[photo]Gail Klayman and patient Kevin Taphorn wear funny glasses and have fun with an ice cream cone trick at Children's Hospital Medical Center.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |

        Gail Klayman uses funny glasses and a special (but rude) noisemaker to cheer up her young patients at Children's Hospital Medical Center.

        Nora Rubinoff consults a file of jokes and funny anecdotes she uses to teach a class on humor when she needs a lift.

        When Dr. Alexander Trott has a cold, he tells patients at University Hospital's emergency room that they have to be sicker than he is if they want to see a doctor.

        Stimulating a person's funny bone can go a long way toward easing what ails them. Unfortunately, everyone doesn't have the knack for finding humor, especially since the war on terrorism began three months ago.

        These three local people, all humor experts in their own way, have specific ways they make laughter happen on the job and in their lives.

        A woman went to her doctor, complaining that she hurt all over. “Can you be more specific?” the doctor asked.

        She touched her right knee and yelled, “Ow! That hurts.” Then she touched her left cheek and yelled, “Ow! That hurts too!” And then she touched her right eyebrow and yelled “Ouch! Even that hurts!”

        The doctor thought for a minute, and then gave his diagnosis. “You have a broken finger.”


   Mary Marcdante's rules for practicing laughter (
   1. Make a sound when you laugh. Whether it's a har-di-har or a ho-ho-ho or a snort, there has to be noise.
   2. Exaggerate your laugh. Louder and longer is better.
   3. Make eye contact with another person or with yourself in the mirror.


   Steve Wilson's comedy tips (
   • Look for laughter: Read the funny cards in the greeting card aisle, keep a lookout for funny situations.
   • Keep laughter handy: Use “toys” to help stimulate a laugh — noisemakers, windup toys, comic books, cartoons, funny calendars. He's partial to noisemakers and a Magic 8 ball.
   • Practice laughing: Join a laughter club or practice by yourself.


   Among recent findings that laughter really is the best medicine:
   • A recent study at the University of California Irvine College of Medicine shows that even anticipating a mirthful event — such as a television sitcom — reduces stress hormone levels and boosts the immune system.
   • A 2000 study at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore showed that laughter and humor protect the body from heart disease.
   • At the University of California Los Angeles, researchers are studying the effects of laughter and humor on ill children's immune systems.

        Ms. Klayman, a certified child life specialist at Children's, works hard to make her patients laugh. She uses funny hats and glasses and videos. Sometimes she and a patient whip up a batch of “Mean Soup” — an imaginary dish that includes everything the youngster hates about his or her illness.

        “We yell into the soup and we put fake IVs into the soup and maybe a teaspoon of diarrhea or a dash of vomit, whatever their problems are,” she says.

        But her most successful tactic is a kind of high-tech, remote control whoopee cushion — used only with the parents' permission. The cushion is hidden in a chair, the unsuspecting visitor sits on it, and the patient trips the control, which is hidden under the sheets of his or her hospital bed.

        Rude noises — and hilarity — ensue.

        Sometimes parents and siblings are the targets. But often the doctors and nurses who give shots and insert IV lines and administer other unpleasantries find themselves victims of what Ms. Klayman calls her “fart machine.”

        One boy who was getting sutures removed pushed the button every time the doctor pulled out a stitch. Another patient who'd been unable to speak or move for several weeks decided to surprise a neurosurgeon who came into check on his progress.

        “We have so much fun,” Ms. Klayman says.

        A man walks into his doctor's office with a cucumber up his nose, a radish in his right ear and a carrot in his left ear. “What's the matter with me?” he asks the doctor.

        The doctor looks him over and replies, “You're not eating properly.”

        Mrs. Rubinoff, 39, of West Chester, looks at her joke file whenever she's having a bad day. Since Sept. 11, she's looked at it a lot.

        She started compiling the file years ago. It came in handy when a lingering illness led a doctor to suspect she might have leukemia. The doctor was wrong, luckily, but the joke file was just the remedy Mrs. Rubinoff, who teaches part-time at Cincinnati Jewish Reform School, needed.

        When she leaves the house every day, she reads a plaque that hangs at the door: “Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused.”

        Humor gives people control over stressful situations, says Clifton therapist Martha McLeod, who will be one of the presenters at the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor's conference in February. “When we can start giggling at something, it frees up energy, and you can look at it from different angles,” she says.

        Ms. McLeod teaches a course, ""Finding Your Funnybone” through the University of Cincinnati's Communiversity program. She advises clients to look for humorous situations every day and to laugh out loud.

        But humor isn't strictly necessary for laughter, say some experts, and it's the physical act of laughter that boosts health.

        Mr. Wilson and Mary Marcdante, a San Diego motivational speaker and the writer of My Mother, My Friend: The Ten Most Important Things to Talk About with Your Mother (Fireside Books; $12) prescribe practicing laughter regularly — whether there's anything to laugh about or not.

        That means creating a hearty ha-ha-ha for a minimum of 30 seconds a day, Ms. Marcdante says. Sometimes she practices in the car, sometimes in the mirror. During her speeches, she encourages the audience to laugh along with her. The funniest part is watching the looks they get from passers-by.

        Lenny Dave, a motivational speaker who preaches the value of laughter to Wellness Center clients, tracked how long it took for late-night jokesters David Letterman, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien to get back to being funny after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

        Most of us looked to late night TV for the signal that it was all right to make jokes again. “By the end of the second week, bam! They were making bin Laden jokes,” says the Blue Ash man.

        Ms. Klayman walks a fine line at Children's as she decides when it's safe to try to coax a laugh from patients and their families. “People might think, this is tragic. Should I use humor?” she says. “But I always tell them, in order to get through the sad times, you have to play and have fun times.”

        A woman runs into a doctor's office, screaming, “Help! I've lost my memory!”

        “When did this happen?” the doctor asks.

        The woman looks at him. “When did what happen?”

        The emergency room is a renowned repository of humor — some of it warped or on the dark side.

        Just about every ER has a list of patients with funny names or weird complaints. Dr. Alexander Trott's favorite is the patient who came in complaining, “I'm afraid of midgets.”

        A good belly laugh goes a long way toward keeping patients and staff from climbing up the walls when the ER gets tense, he says.

        “The whole point of it is, it's counterpoint to what is a pretty tense and sometimes pretty grim environment.

        “Here at University, with a steady diet of gunshot wounds and automobile accidents, if you stopped to think about it, you'd be overwhelmed by it.”

Mary Marcdante

My Mother, My Friend