The 2012 comedy “Ted” contained a joke made at the expense of the movie’s villain. The joke, as expressed by a teddy bear come to life, was: “From one man to another, I hope you get Lou Gehrig’s disease.” This alarmed some ALS patients and advocates, who said it crossed a line.
Not only did I find it funny in the film’s context, but it also served up ALS in a dark humor kind of way, as a worst-case fate. The irony of a heretofore inanimate object wishing a disease upon someone else that renders sufferers inanimate was not lost on me, either.
I find myself embracing Charlie Chaplin’s observation: “Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.”
Case in point: Once, when leaving a restaurant, I had an irritating sensation in the back of my throat. The urge to cough was pronounced. Not wanting to divert any oxygen from my walker-aided plodding, I tried to suppress the instinct. My esophagus involuntarily disobeyed. Caught off guard by the evacuation effort, my body chose an unexpected exit route for the partially swallowed remnant of a bell pepper. The morsel was sent hurtling out of my nose, striking an unsuspecting crawling insect dead on the sidewalk in the process. I was, momentarily, Nostril-Damn-Us, pest control superhero. The pain from having my nasal passage used like a gun barrel was easily overcome by the rolling guffaws of my wife and several bystanders immediately afterward, and the hilarity that invariably accompanies the numerous retellings.
Carol Burnett often likes to say that “comedy is tragedy — plus time.” For an ALS patient, we may not have the luxury of time. It’s best to laugh when the calamity is fresh. In that spirit, vaudevillian-like lines have been prompted by my distress.
In the emergency room following a nasty fall resulting in stitches, a chipped tooth, and a neck sprain, I was asked what had happened. My answer was, “I took a right into the hallway, a left into the bedroom, then a final right into the floor.”
Then there was the time that my wife came home from work to find me on my back, like an upside-down, helpless turtle. I had been that way for nine hours. My summation to her was, “Your absence made the tile grow harder.”
Milton Berle offered: “Laughter is an instant vacation.” It is. Two examples:
When I had aggressive stomach flu, my doctor asked for a description of my recent stool output. My answer, “Think exotic fish aquarium,” produced chuckles that temporarily arrested the symptoms.
Upon being shown a photo of the pressure sores on my derrière, I exclaimed: “That’s not my butt, that’s a graphic relief map of Afghanistan!” From that point forward, my caregiving team’s mission has been to make the wounded area depict an ever smaller country while reducing the topographical extremes.
Mark Twain wrote, “The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.” I don’t know about all of humanity, but for PALS, that’s all we got.
One of the most frustrating aspects of my ALS ordeal has been the gradual erasure of my verbal skills. If not for the comedic value in comparing message intent with receipt, my despondence might be palpable. “May I have some vitamin C” becomes “My handsome vending machine,” while, “But my leg is cramping off and on” morphs into “Bob Marley is crapping onions.” I believe if I were to sing the national anthem of the United States at a gathering of United Nations members, in confusion, people from every country would rise to their feet.
Some may suggest that you laugh until it hurts. For ALS, I prefer a rearrangement of the words: It hurts until you laugh.
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