My friend Paul Johnson
is primary caregiver
for his wife Barb.
Recently he told me
a funny story
from two years ago.
Barb was at the Mayo Clinic,
about to undergo her third brain surgery
in just over four weeks.
There was real uncertainty
about her surviving the procedure.
It was a very stressful time.
Standing beside the gurney,
a nurse asked Barb three questions
to confirm that the right patient
was about to have the correct surgery.
“Your name, birth date, and type of procedure,”
said the nurse.
In an especially clear voice Barb said,
“Barbara Johnson, March 26, 1951,
breast augmentation surgery.”
It took a couple of eyeblinks
following Barb’s unexpected response
before Paul and the nurse, in his words,
“totally cracked up.”
Barb’s lively sense of humor lightened
an uncomfortably tense time,
and it continued to do so
each time Paul retold the story
to her concerned family and friends.

Paul now calls these experiences of finding
the humorous in caregiving situations
“like finding an oasis in the desert.”
It’s cheering and refreshing.
Such joking, especially from the care receiver,
also puts the topic being joked about
out in view of everyone.
It gives gentle permission to talk about
what may have been avoided in conversation
even if it’s been on everyone’s mind.
Often all it takes is a couple of words,
a look on one’s face,
or a wink of the eye.
This slightly unexpected human exchange
can brighten spirits and lighten loads instantly.
An infectious smile or a sudden laugh
can illumine a space that had been
uncomfortably dark only a moment before.

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