A little humor goes a long way with a lot of patients. The degree to which a positive attitude—on their part and ours—can help them get through a difficult time in their lives never ceases to amaze me. One patient came to us with massive lower extremity swelling and an EF of 15 percent. He was an inpatient for over a month and had a Foley catheter for more than three weeks. He had an indwelling peritoneal catheter to drain massive buildup of ascitic fluid at regular intervals. He sat upright in a chair for the majority of this time, not able to walk or even stand because of his heart function and his trunks for legs. He slept in the chair. He ate in the chair. He urinated from the chair. He awaited evaluation for surgical candidacy in the chair. He hated the chair.
Yet, every morning, he would have a new quip, a new off-color shot at the consulting services, a new joke, a new self-deprecating observation that would have us in stitches. He ripped on the chair. He made jokes about the chair’s mama. He made me laugh more than any patient I’ve encountered, and I made him laugh too. (I almost made him desat once or twice too, but it was worth it. He told me so once he caught his breath.) He demonstrated to us that it’s possible to stay positive in such dire straits, and it’s possible to emotionally thrive. He showed that making light of a tough situation is not somewhere within denial, but somewhere well beyond acceptance.
Bringing a little personality to this method adds a certain human quality, a particular realism that categoric, tenuous professionalism never could. The patient later died waiting for a heart. But he was sharp, he was happy, and he was rid of the chair.