Finding the Humor in Radiology

August 9, 2011

Finishing my review of the gazillionth abnormal CT for the night, I phoned the hospital’s operator to get me in touch with the clinician for the patient. The operator could tell from my voice just how beaten-down I was; before connecting me with the doc, she wanted to know if she could ask me something. I grunted permission. “Do you have a sense of humor?” she wanted to know.

One less-than-wonderful morning during the latter half of my residency, I was nearing the end of a particularly brutal callshift. Finishing my review of the gazillionth abnormal CT for the night, I phoned the hospital’s operator to get me in touch with the clinician for the patient. The operator could tell from my voice just how beaten-down I was; before connecting me with the doc, she wanted to know if she could ask me something. I grunted permission. “Do you have a sense of humor?” she wanted to know.

Under just about any other circumstances, I would have been too stunned to be insulted. I have always felt that a good laugh is right up there with the meaning of life. The day I stop being able to find things funny will be the day the Forces of Darkness have triumphed over my soul.

Radiology, as with most of healthcare, can be a pretty grim environment. People are sick, suffering, and/or dying, there’s endless pressure to increase one’s quantity and quality of work, and it can seem like there’s no room for comedy in the mix. However, with a little determination and creativity, one can find a few ways to keep on smiling:

Cracking jokes. We’re not exactly stand-up comics, but most of us have a small repertoire of good ones we’ve heard. True, it might seem incongruous to suddenly offer up a “knock, knock” in the middle of a quiet reading-room, but as long as you’re not a constant distraction, most folks will appreciate the mini-break you’re offering. Then again, unless you’re making a routine effort to gather new material, you’ll deplete your bag of tricks sooner or later.

Gallows humor. This fits right into unpleasant, stressful situations. For example, suppose you’ve just been served with papers for a malpractice suit, which, though meritless, will nevertheless prey on you for the next few years. You can be predictable and groan about it…or you can rub your hands together and talk about making friends with the ambulance-chaser so you can be his next “expert” witness.

Sarcasm. A very popular option, which pairs well with gallows humor. “Dr. X left early again, and I’m inheriting his unread studies? Well, at least *somebody* gets to have a life outside of work. I remember what daylight looks like…” Don’t use it carelessly. Always remember that a member of your audience could decide that your rapier-wit is a sign of independent thought - or worse, a bad attitude. That means trouble.

Blatant understatement. Following a truly horrible experience: “Well, now, that was suboptimal.” When verbally assaulted by a fuming-mad individual who’s more interested in cursing your ancestors than discussing what’s actually the matter: “Now, be honest - you’re not entirely happy, are you?”

Slapstick. This might not be one for the reading-room. As satisfying as it might be to fling a pie into the face of the next person who brings you a stack of “STAT” studies to read, someone with a weaker sense of humor than yours might label you a “disruptive” member of staff. Everybody’s a critic. Though it was very funny the day someone filled the power-injector with water and used it as a Super-Soaker when another member of staff walked in the room...