Cleft Lip and Palate · Creativity · Family · Medical/Dental · Mental Health · Self

Resilience Through Humor

keep calm cleft

September is Craniofacial awareness month. A month, and cause, near and dear to my heart. I was born with bilateral cleft lip and palate.

I have written a lot about my cleft lip and palate experiences on this blog. The teasing and questions, the procedures, surgeries, scary moments, and, believe it or not, there is plenty more where that came from. From it all, I have received a great gift. A gift that cannot be seen or touched. And hopefully one I will never have to return.

 Gallows Humor for Survival

Yes, I have one sick sense of humor. You have to in order to survive what I went through during my formative years.

One story, in particular, is a perfect example of me laughing in the face of some scary stuff. I was probably between 12-14 years old. I was in the pre-operation area where, many people meet you, the doctor, nurses, and anesthesiologists. My mother, father, and brother were there, while I sat on the gurney in a johnny waiting for the anesthesiology intern, or resident, to come by to start the IV. Or more accurately, treat me like a pin cushion. It was a woman this time around, not a dreamy, male doctor in training. She had the tray filled with all the supplies and looked official. You had to give her that. Then she began the all to familiar process of starting the IV: swab the top of the hand with alcohol, put on a tourniquet, then unsheathe the needle, pray she can find a vein in my dehydrated state, and jab me with the giant needle. All the while, I am looking away, talking to my family, glancing at the ceiling, looking at the curtain separating me from another patient, and denying the pain. It should not hurt this much, but it does. She missed it. She tries to move the tube around after the needle is out. Medical folks, if you are reading, this never works. She tapes it up and walks away. Now that the resident and her needle are gone, I look down and all I see is a pool of blood all over the bright, white sheets covering the gurney. I look over at my brother and say, “Huh, what a rookie.” The next nurse that comes by tries to deny that it happened by covering it up (oh the irony) with a blanket and some towels.

There are waiting room stories, medication stories, fellow patient stories, and so many more. The best stories are always funny. Those are the stories that I remember the best. They have turned into private jokes in our house. I love that I have this ability, and it would not be possible without the help of my parents. They are some funny people.

I use dark humor today

Today, I take the gift of gallows humor with me everywhere I go. I need it to survive the tough times. Humor has allowed me to be resilient in the face of adversity. Give me an awkward, sad, scary, or uncomfortable moment, and I find a perverse joy in it. Those of us who have been through a lot cling to whatever it is that keeps us strong, for me that is laughter. Scientists and psychologists say that laughter not only can improve your mood, but can also change it. You must be mindful and fully present to make the perfect joke at the perfect time. Guess what, mindfulness helps improve mood, too.

I’m proud to say I have the joker up my sleeve, not an ace. Aces are too fickle; they can make or break a hand. The joker, however, always wins because he has a smile on his face at the end of the game.

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