A group of nurses were sharing their experiences working in LTC, specifically with patients who had Alzheimer’s and dementia. One of them shared what a resident would say to her at the end of every shift. “She’d always smile so nicely at me, and say ‘Good night, you little *****!’”
All of the nurses laughed. It was one of those moments that really makes you reflect on the unique phenomenon of humor in nursing relationships. For most of us, 99.9% of the time, being called a ***** (or a **** or a *******, for that matter!) is not exactly a fun thing. We don’t look for or cherish that kind of communication. Yet in this instance, the nurse laughed – and so did every other nurse within earshot, many of whom had had the same sort of experience themselves.
Why is that?
Nursing humor can fill many roles in our lives. For example, laughter helps us process things that are uncomfortable and awkward. Even in situations where you’re fully aware that the patient doesn’t have full control over the words they’re saying, it’s still, on some level, awkward and uncomfortable to be called names normally reserved for barroom brawls. There’s a measure of internal tension that develops – not as severe, necessarily, as the type of internal tension you experience upon hearing the words “Surprise JCAHO Inspection – They’re Here Now!”, but tension nonetheless. Laughing resolves and releases this tension.
Laughter in this instance also serves as a type of social signal, communicating in a subtle fashion that you’re aware of the patient’s condition and can detach yourself from responding emotionally to it, while still maintaining the perspective that allows you to recognize the humor in your environment. Modeling this type of behavior for newer nurses (which is what we’re doing when we laugh with the new kids on the unit, whether we’re consciously aware of it or not!) is an effective way to teach a valuable stress-management technique. It’s one thing to say, “Sometimes all you can do is laugh!” and another thing entirely to demonstrate that behavior.
Humor also helps people bond. As nurses, we experience things that most people never even contemplate. If you take a poll of 1,000 people at random, and another poll of 1,000 nurses, and you ask “Have you ever seen anyone decorate a room using only their own feces?” the vast majority of the random sample will answer “No!” while the vast majority of nurses will say “Of course!” Shared experiences can serve as a shared source of humor. The ability to laugh at the same things also creates a sense of common identity. We’re social animals. We come hard-wired with a desire to belong to the group. Humor serves as a social lubricant, smoothing our entry into and acceptance by a group, and the continuing use of humor reinforces the bond between group members, creating community.
Finally, nursing humor relationships lift the mood. There are plenty of LOLs who make us LOL, but there are plenty of LOLs who don’t. There are rough days, tough days, and days we’d rather not talk about at all. The ability to recognize and laugh at the funny moments that come during the day even when it involves, “Good night, you little *****!” – can elevate the spirit and provide some critical emotional resiliency essential to providing top-notch patient care. Humor – it’s amazing and amusing every time!