Some people wonder if they can level with us, because they're worried we might, or absolutely certain that we are going to, laugh at them.
I could, of course, reassure you that everyone I work with is compassionate and professional, because no amount of money in salary makes it worth cleaning up both ends of you or sticking our hands inside your bloody guts to save your life, and yet we cheerfully do it, because we really are that compassionate and professional.
Some people will try to tell you that we're so compassionate and professional, we would never make light of ___________, because that'd be, y'know, wrong. And that we had our funny bones removed in nursing/medical school.
And if you believe that, just send me your credit card number and PIN, because I have a friend in Nigeria that needs a small investment to get $30,000,000 out of a bank there, which he'll split with us.
Look, you're in the ER because something happened (or you did it to yourself) and you can't fix it, or aren't sure it needs fixing, and even though you're afraid to tell us, you're more afraid of not getting it fixed. So you tell us.
And I absolutely promise, we won't laugh.
At least, not right now, or in front of you.
Because we're that professional, but we're not frickin' Vulcans. We see really crappy people, in crappy situations, and have crappy days, and sometimes - far more often than I'm happy with - if we didn't resort to occasional (and yes, a tad inappropriate if it was in your face) humor, we'd climb on an empty bed and start screaming hysterically, or just sobbing and sucking on our thumbs. So when you, and Fate, conspire to bring something snort-worthy and wave it right under our noses, you're damn skippy we're going to laugh. It's the garlic we wave to keep the soul-sucking vampires of depression out of our heads and make it to the end of another shift.
No, we aren't cracking jokes while we're doing CPR on the pulseless 97-year-old diabetic Alzheimer's patient with metastatic brain cancer whose guilty family has left him as a "full code". But what we do joke about does sometimes go beyond whatever tattered bounds of taste even the late late late night comic on Comedy Central would hesitate to cross.
One night - actually, so late it was early the next morning - an unfortunate man was brought into the trauma bay after being deprived of a goodly amount of his lower leg, amongst other and more critical complaints. A car is not a toy. It was grim and gruesome, partly because medicating his agonized moans hadn't gotten him to anywhere within shooting distance of bliss yet, which fact was audible to everyone within the department. It was even further grim and gruesome because all the supplies for starting IVs were kept in the trauma bay as well, and right next to them on the counter, delivered by the paramedics along with the patient, was a large tupperware pan, containing one tennis shoe, with a sock sticking out the top, then a section of calf sticking out of that, a bloody hunk of muscle above that, and finally half each of a bloody and broken tibia and fibia end poking out of that. Sitting on the other side of this ghastly table decoration was the young(er than me) trauma surgeon, deep in the midst of his pre-op notes to get the patient ready for imminent surgery, which almost certainly was not going to include the re-attachment of the battered and now extra appendage of Mr. Stumpy.
I don't know you, so maybe seeing severed limbs is part and parcel of your everyday, and you handle the sight with taciturn aplomb. I worked in the busiest and bloodiest ER on the planet then, and even to me, this was a bit out of the ordinary. And, being a movie fan, I stopped to process the I-can't-believe-I'm-seeing-this visual. As the surgeon turned to look at me across this flotsam of random anatomy, our eyes met for a second. I stared right into his face, and in my best Richard Dreyfuss tone of mock disgust and moral outrage, softly told him with utter solemnity that
"This is no boating accident!"
Then I immediately went back to rounding up the tubes and toys I came in to get.
And quick as lightning, trauma doc not only got the Jaws reference, he started to giggle. And couldn't stop for almost 5 minutes, even as he continued to write, and on the way out the door accompanying his latest charge to surgery. The patient, semi-delirious, and quite snowed in a haze of pain and opiates, never heard any of it. But I was quietly pretty damn happy that I'd lightened the load on a young doc's shoulders at 4 A.M. And didn't run screaming into the night myself, either.
Another place and time, a young father brought his toddler in for an unknown foreign body up a nostril. Come to find out, post removal, it was a big, BIG fat green table grape. Dad and doc marvelled at how on earth a three year old boy could have shoved a grape twice the size of the opening way up into his nose. But now, fixed up good as new, home they went.
Two hours later, dad came back, and signed himself in.
For a grape up his nose.
Thanks, ye Gods of Comedy.