Gallows Humor

Compassion Fascists

No matter what you think now or what you wrote on your AMCAS personal statement, as you mature you will find a great deal of humor in your patients, even some who are pretty sick. This is called “gallows humor” or “black comedy.” Some try to pass this off as a coping mechanism but I am more inclined to think that some situations are just funny, even if they do involve patients. It is hard, for example, not to find humor in a 500 pound pregnant woman delivering a baby about which she knows nothing and which she denies even as you hold up the infant to show to her with the cord still running to the placenta.

Yeah, yeah. I know. Eating disorder. Body dysmorphic syndrome leading to poor self-esteem. Socioeconomically disadvantaged. Blah blah blah.

I get it. But the situation like many you will encounter is just funny. You would be absolutely wrong to make fun of a patient or laugh at them but physicians are notorious for the funny stories they tell amongst themselves.

Now, some will become sanctimonious and insist that all human misfortune including mind-numbing stupidity is the result of fate, not personal choices, and that there but for the grace of God go we. Or the dreaded commandment against being “judgemental” will be invoked, as it often is, as an attempt to stifle the debate.

I have no doubt that if my program, which is very uptight and sanctimonious, heard me make a humerous or disrespectful remark about a patient I would be called in for discussions and made to explain my thoughtcrime. It has happened to a collegue of mine.

The point is that you have to be circumspect. There are some people around whom I would never make an off-color joke or insensitive remark because they are sensitivity Nazis whose zeal for politically correct conformity would put the most vigilant of puritans to shame. With my very few close friend we hardly do anything but make off-color jokes and insensitive remarks. (My wife always asks me what my compadres and I talked about to which the standard answer is, “We exchanged vulgarities.”)

I am a former United States Marine Infantryman. I am happily married and am the father of three. I have worked for my whole life. I respect the law, vote, attend church and am a pillar of the community upon whose back the whole edifice of our civilization is supported. (And I was raised in the bad old days before political correctness made us all so hyper-friggin sensitive.)

Yet, if I was overheard by the wrong people to make an insensitive remark on any of the politically protected subjects than at the very least I would be formally reprimanded and forced to undergo sensitivity indoctrination at the hands of the thought-police from the compassion beauracracy. I would actually probably be fired and my career destroyed such is the insipid age in which we live where what someone says is more important than what they do.

In other words, watch your back. Sensitivity is a religion. There are well-paid people at every academic institution whose job it is to enforce the articles of this faith, usually by creating problems where none really exist. The priesthood of this faith are the poorly educated beauracrats at places like the “Office for Instutional Diversity” who hold nebulous and important-sounding titles in the hierarchy of your institution but teach nothing, treat no one, and don’t even adminster anything remotely realted to patient care.