Each chapter in this book explores the forms and effects of humor in healthcare, mostly in hospital settings, beginning with a touching account of a person who worked as a hospital clown, visiting patients, enlivening staff, haunting the halls of a hospital where she became a beloved and important reminder that the disruptions of illness can be reframed in ways that make them more tolerable and bring patients back into communities from which they often feel exiled.  In subsequent chapters Carter, who himself went through cancer treatment, and writes from that experience as well as from his experience as a volunteer in an ER, draws from his compendious collection of medical jokes and stories to provide examples of the kinds of humor that help nurses and doctors, as well as patients and their families, get through the days.  Some of it is edgy and ironic, some broad and slapstick, some wordplay that helps to domesticate the often alienating discourse of clinical medicine.  His point is to provide some analytical categories and ways of understanding the kinds of humor that can be helpful-not simply to share a collection of jokes and stories, but the book does, especially in the final chapters, provide a sizeable collection of those, ranging from puns (including what he calls "groaners") to patient stories that in various ways turn medicine on its head.


Early in the book the writer offers analytical and theoretical categories through which to consider the forms of humor that arise in medical situations, complementing that schematizing with the lovely story of a hospital clown.  Thereafter he shifts the focus to different populations in sites of medical care, and how humor might help each of them sustain the will to heal, including those who are regarded, perhaps a little too simply, as care providers even though they themselves often need care—sometimes in the form of a good joke in the break room—to get through demanding days in professions and environments where burnout is all too common.



University of California Medical Humanities Press

Place Published

University of California, San Francisco



Page Count