Clowns and Jokers Can Heal Us: Comedy and Medicine (Perspectives in Medical Humanities) 1st Edition
by Albert Howard Carter (Author)
About the Author
Albert Howard Carter III, PhD, is adjunct professor, Social Medicine, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. His books include Our Human Hearts: A Medical and Cultural Journey; Rising from the Flames: The Experience of the Severely Burned, and First Cut: A Season in the Human Anatomy Lab.
Series: Perspectives in Medical Humanities (Book 2)
Paperback: 264 pages
Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (November 1, 2011)
Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
A great book for medical and humanities professionals, caregivers, and patients
By Mahala Stripling on December 18, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Howard Carter’s forte is imbedding himself in medical situations, and then reporting back to us. In CLOWNS he draws from his expertise in the medical humanities, experience as a cancer survivor, and observations as an ER volunteer to give us a groundbreaking book on humor in medicine, a topic established in Norman Cousins’ ANATOMY OF AN ILLNESS (1983).
More than a joke book–although there are dozens of laugh-out-loud stories, puns, and malapropisms collected over decades–Carter’s CLOWNS approaches humor by situating it in the four ancient Greek humours, described as sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. Humor creates a so-called Green World (a metaphor for health and joy) in the gray world of the hospital, he argues. And he delivers with his account of the hospital clown, whom he shadows, showing how she bridges the two worlds. We’re afraid to inject humor into the solemnity of a hospital, but the specially-trained clown enters a patient’s room and immediately becomes a catalyst for conversation, thereby bringing families together and giving more control to the patient. Linked to happier times, she brings the world of the well from the outside to affirm life and offer hope, Dr. Carter explains.
In the ER he shows how stressed-out nurses create camaraderie by calling out “party time” when they’re faced with putting a drunken patient in 4-pt restraints. But my favorite image is of a patient who wore a halo brace for 12 weeks to stabilize her neck from an injury. A Frankenstein-like contraption, its two metal columns, stiff collar, and 10 pins screwed into her skull brought stares from people in public. So she decorated it like a Christmas tree, weaving in red ribbons, green ivy, tiny ornaments, and mistletoe, offering herself up for a holiday kiss. By calling attention to herself, this decorated woman overcame her terrors, creating a “strange dialectic” between her two worlds (p. 118).
Humor, as the many examples in CLOWNS show, is a natural emotion that helps us regain health. Carter’s personal reflections–all energy and warmth–are aligned with his theory of how humor effects a mind-body connection. What I take away from this provocative new book is that we should embrace the use of humor in medicine. And CLOWNS gives us tools for doing so, providing a model for creating normalcy within the anarchy of sickness. Offering an insider’s comic view of hospital life, it’s a great gift for clinicians, caregivers, and their patients.