Theresa Brown is a nurse who appreciates the healing power of patients' humor. In a December 1, 2010 article for the NYTimes' Well blog, Brown shares a few anecdotes that illustrate how she is often amused by patients' stories that others might consider offensive.
"It wasn’t so much what he said as how he said it, and he had me laughing so hard I almost cried. It was, of course, an unsettling topic about which to joke, but maybe that’s why he chose it, venturing into forbidden humor as a way to cope with the unsettling circumstances of his treatment."
Regarding a different patient's joking, she says, "I suppose I should have been offended, but I wasn’t. I’ve never been in the hospital with cancer, but I’m pretty sure I would find it exhausting and terrifying. As coping strategies go, I could handle his racy humor just fine."
But not everyone can. Patients' humor can become problematic if clinicians and/or nearby patients feel offended by a patient's comments.
Healthy Survivors use humor to alleviate distress and a sense of helplessness, as long as it doesn't interfere with the ability of the members of their healthcare team to care for them. And as long as they are not hurting other patients.