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Lighten Up

We know that humor can lighten a mood and change the direction of a conversation. It’s no joke that laughter is a great stress reliever, too. Sure, a good laugh cannot cure all diseases or erase serious problems. But the medical community has long touted the benefits of laughter; from changes in organ function to immune system improvement.

Oftentimes laughter is the only medicine. At least it was for us during the time my husband was quarantined to a hospital room for several weeks as he recovered from a bone marrow transplant. Despite the previous months of failed chemo treatments which resulted in a weakened physical state, my husband kept his sense of humor. It not only got us through another day but provided comic relief to some of the hospital staff.

Meal choices during his confinement period was extremely limited — my best recollection is of petrified chicken, canned beans, fried potatoes. Nothing fresh or resembling the homemade foods he’d been used to eating. Strict menu choices were meant to protect a weakened immune system from potential food borne illnesses. No matter how pitiful the offerings, he never complained.

Each day food services provided a sadistic Scantron menu card. (Scantron is a card where you fill in circles next to your selection, like the old school tests, and then a machine “reads” the answers.) I say this because virtually nothing on the menu could be ordered, so what was the point other than to give a patient fighting to stay alive something to ponder. And he spent a long time making his selections. This was the highlight of his day. But no matter what he chose, the tray arrived with the same shriveled chicken, fried potatoes and green beans.

One afternoon a young food service worker, dressed from head to toe in protective clothing, delivered his meal. She placed it on his bedside table and giggled: “We enjoyed your menu selection today, Mr. DelTorchio.”

When she left the room I asked what he’d done. As he chewed the fried chicken nugget, he too giggled then handed me the Scantron menu. He’d figured out that if he scribbled outside the circles, the Scantron reader kicked it out and a person would need to read it. That day’s menu choice: Baked Stuffed Lobster, Baked Potato with sour cream and butter, a garden salad with blue cheese dressing and for dessert, a brownie with ice-cream.

In the toughest time of our lives, a little humor became a daily blessing.

Original graphic: Stephanie DelTorchio

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