I Laugh in the Face of CF — That’s How I Thrive

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by Brad Dell |

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(Photo by Kathleen Sheffer)

“Living On a Prayer” played as I pulled into an intersection. From the corner of my eye, I saw a car dart onto my street. A screech and a smash. T-boned, rammed into my driver door. Shrapnel-like glass blasted through the air, trimming a sliver of flesh from my left nostril. Black.

My next memory is the other driver trying to pull me out of my mangled car. There was blood everywhere. I spit some out, thinking it came from my lungs. Wouldn’t be the first time. But it was my nose that was bleeding; a maroon waterfall gushing down the back of my throat.

I crawled out of the car and hugged the other driver. “Hey, so I’m new to Santa Cruz and don’t know anyone. You seem nice. Want to hang out sometime?”

Ten minutes later, paramedics and firefighters surround me. I tell them I’m a transplant patient. “Hey, Carrie! Come check out this guy! It’s an interesting case!” They ooh and ahh as I show them my surgery scars. “Your pulse is actually pretty steady, man.”

“Trust me, I’ve been through worse.”

Police officer: “You sure you’re OK? You must be pretty shaken up.”

“Oh, I had a blast!” I laugh.

Eyebrows raised, he asks if I’ve been drinking.

Only coffee.”

“On any medications?”

“Ha, oh yeah. Ohhh yeah. A lot.

My life is one constant car wreck. Nothing new. Laughing is how I get by. I think I learned it from Dad. Any time I’d have some freaky procedure, he’d joke to thin the thick air. Typical Army dude.

One memorable incident was when a medicine I took gave me a rash in the … nether regions. A student doctor checked out that area — “Just in case of STDs. You never know.” — while Dad stood behind him on the other side of the room. Dad pointed at his chest, then at the doctor. I looked at the doc’s name tag — Dr. Dix. An immature 14-year-old, I couldn’t hold back a laughing fit. “Ha, don’t worry,” Dr. Dix said. “It’s normal to feel uncomfortable during this exam.”

Another time, I had to discuss transplantation with my doctor, and she said I’d have to relocate to a different state for the procedure. Instead of worrying about my life being at risk, I cried about having to move away from my girlfriend of six years. My doctor patted my shoulder, and I cooed, “Love stinks, yeahhh, yeahhh.” It cut through the seriousness like Pulmozyme through mucus. Mom snorted behind the tissue she was using to dab her wet eyes.

Eventually, I adopted morbid humor to cope with death’s ever-present lurk. I usually share this humor only with other chronically ill patients. Just as soldiers morbidly joke on a frontline, many patients make light of life-or-death situations. We want to be comfortable when The Time comes. We want to stare at death and say, “Ha, it’s about time.” Fellow patients are the only ones who don’t act awkward when I joke about my death. Same with poop jokes. Oh, yes. Feel lucky my word count limit prevents me from recounting poop stories.

Dare I say it? “Laughter is the best medicine.” Life with CF is too serious. Loosen up. If you feel a fit of hysterical laughing coming on when you receive bad news, just go with the flow. Laugh! It releases painkilling chemicals and pleasure chemicals. If your docs diagnose you with insanity for laughing at disappointing news, well … that’s just one more diagnosis on a long list, yeah? Own it.

(By the way, laughter is a wonderful form of airway clearance. Whose parents tickled them into coughing fits as a child? Mine did!)

Humor doesn’t just help the patient, it helps those around them, too. When I had a big transplant discussion with my family and doctors, I unleashed the full might of my lame joke arsenal. My sister was crying, and I wanted nothing more than for her to smile. I wanted her to know I was OK. I wanted to know she would be OK. My life is naturally too serious, so I inject comic relief.

However, caregivers, it’s important to note that joking and laughter are not always symptoms of happiness. Just think about Robin Williams. Hilarious. And depressed.

Sorry for that serious note.

Humor is a gift. It helps me to cope. Any time something horrible yet ridiculous happens, I repeat a motto: “This sucks, but it’ll just be a funny story later!”

Laughing at CF gives you power over it. So, laugh, if you’re comfortable with that. Have some fun. Your disease already steals so much.

As I said to a nurse after he asked if I had any “final words” before pushing sedatives into my IV for my dangerous lung transplant surgery: “Have a fun time, OK? That’s what matters most.”

Follow my adventures on my Facebook Page, Adamantium Joy.


Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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