Where's Your Funny Bone?

Once, when I was in kindergarten one of my classmates brought G.I. Joe figurines to class. Even though I was born in San Diego, I had been raised at home by Syrian parents and as a result, prior to kindergarten, I didn’t quite understand American cultural norms. The G.I Joe’s really caught my attention and so I decided to ask the aforementioned classmate, “Can I have JUST one?”  While saying this, I also stuck my middle finger up because I thought this just meant one (as in the number). The other kid did not take kindly to this gesture, and reported me to the teacher. I was soon being reprimanded; and since I wasn’t sure what I did wrong, I burst out into tears.
The place I grew up- Photo by Me!
I have since learned that it was not appropriate to use the middle finger unless you are driving. From a young age, humor has been a big part of my life. Much of this blog has stories that are more humorous than serious. While the practice of medicine, and especially pediatrics is a serious field (I would never want to give less than 100% of what I know when it comes to a decision about a child’s health), I have learned that the same humorous moments that have animated my life are also present in my job. Not only are these moments present, but they are an essential part of how I practice.

Humor is the great connector. It connects people regardless of background, and there is nothing like having a patient laugh in the doctor’s office. It is most likely not why they came to see the doctor, and therefore is often a pleasant surprise. My practice is located in the National City area of San Diego, and so being in my waiting room is like attending a meeting at the United Nations. Every time I walk into a patient room, I encounter a different family, from a different background with their own unique culture.
This is not National City- Photo by Me!
My challenge is to effectively interact with different cultures in a way that empowers the patient to heal. A doctor can know every disease in the book, but if he or she cannot communicate with the patient, that knowledge does little good. I have learned with time that no matter a person's cultural background, age, or gender, if you can make them laugh, then you share a unique bond.

I routinely give my patients stickers at the end of their visit with me (or sometimes at the beginning of the visit depending on the level of hate they have for me as I walk into the room). On one occasion, I noticed that the parents were devout Muslims; so when I asked the kids which stickers they wanted and they said “Angry Birds!”  I carefully avoided the PIGS, and selected 2 BIRDS to give to the children. After all, we wouldn’t want to give Muslims pork.
Me and the Ninja Turtles on Halloween
Joking aside, the moments we laugh are sacred moments in life. A few seconds spent laughing are a much needed relief in a world otherwise filled with mortgages, pension plans, and Kim Kardashian breaking the internet. I cannot always make my patients laugh, because sometimes my patients hate me (see 18 month olds), and also because a lot of the time I say things that aren’t actually that funny (see much of this blog). However the moments I actually get someone to crack a smile are worth all the times I fail in doing so.

The other day I asked a 6 year old what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said, “A doctor!” I replied, “Awesome, when you become a doctor do you want to come work with me? I’ll pay you 10 dollars an hour.” The kid shrugged his shoulders and said “Sure.” I made him shake my hand to confirm our agreement and walked out of the room. He will be writing this blog in 24 years, and hopefully he’ll be funnier than me.


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