PharmacyU Toronto was an absolute blast! The event was sold out and response was incredible. Many thanks to my friends at EnsembleIQ for the incredible opportunity. That’s me onstage BTW holding my arm in a very dramatic fashion. For the story that goes with this picture please go to PharmacyU !
My wife and I were on the couch. She looked over at me with wide eyes. Something either really good or really bad was about to happen. I had no idea which one. She held me in a steady gaze. “Honey,” she said “That was the best damn pork chop you have ever made!”
Kaboom! I had made my wife an awesome pork chop! I know this might sound trivial but I take my pork chops seriously. I marinate in garlic and soy (not me but the pork) and then BBQ (yes even in winter-because it make me feel extra manly). For some reason, these particular pork chops kicked ass more than usual. I was thrilled. I had levelled up on my pork chop cooking.
It feels great to level up. We all have sets of skills that are important to us, things we do that feel particularly good. That’s how I feel about pork chops. I seriously think I could out pork chop Gordon Ramsay. (Ok, I actually couldn’t-but it’s fun to dream).
Levelling up feels great. When we know that our skill level has jumped and we’ve made significant progress we need to recognize it. That’s why I think it would be brilliant to have Terry Crews appear magically whenever we level up, tear off his shirt and yell at us “You just levelled up! Right on!”. Then he would give us a monstrous high five and disappear in a masculine mist of old spice. That would be awesome. I think this would be a great deal for Terry as well. He’d meet all kinds of cool people who had just accomplished something, and he’d get to travel. OK, we’d have to work out the whole “Magically appearing” thing (I’ve got an email in to Stephen Hawking) but after that, it would be a breeze.
Imagine: you’re going through your day and you do something awesome. Maybe you’re especially great at your job, maybe you hold your temper for another five minutes, maybe you make a great pancake. All of a sudden the air around you crackles, there is a rip in the fabric of time and space and Terry Crews appears with a 40 lb dumbbell in one hand and a protein shake in the other. He looks at you with a mixture of admiration and positive ferocity and yells “You just leveled up ! Nice looking pancake. The world needs more badasses like you.” Then he drops the dumbbell. Give you a blistering high five and disappears again. Leaving you with a ridiculously heavy weight and an improved sense of self-esteem.
That would feel awesome. While I work the details of this out and get Mr Crews and Mr Hawking on board, we can do this ourselves. When we’re great at something, acknowledge it. When you level up allow yourself to feel terrific.
You do a lot of good over the course of a day and the world does need more badasses like you.
U of T Med Magazine has done a great edition on humour in medicine. I was honoured to be included. To have a look at the other articles please go to UofTMedmagazine.
I’ve been an improviser for a long time, worked for The Second City in Canada and abroad, and to me there is something almost magical about improv.
When I was recovering from cancer, I noticed that when I went to improv shows, good things happened. I would laugh with friends, and then feel noticeably better for days. I had been in and around improv for years of course, but I wondered if this was having a positive effect on my ability to cope with life after cancer. Improv became a tool for me to deal with my condition.
I started making jokes and shows out of my situation and I was invited by some very generous people to teach workshops at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre for patients, and at the Faculty of Medicine for second-year students.
What could improv possibly do for physicians in training? Picture this: You’re in the centre of a windowless room and all eyes are on you. Sweat glistens on your forehead. You’re part of an intense improvisation game called Zulu, where the participants have to make up names for imaginary products on the spot. There’s no right answer and you can’t study for it. You have to get an idea and blurt it out. In other words, you have to be vulnerable.
I know you hate not having an answer the way my dog hates squirrels. I continue to point at you and wait for a response while 40 colleagues look on. I can see your intense desire to win but I wonder if you have difficulty connecting with people. Unfortunately, this lack of vulnerability reads as arrogance. And, as patients, we know it the instant we feel it.
I had an oncologist who shared this characteristic. He was technically competent but so arrogant and distant that he literally dismissed me from his office because he had a dinner reservation at Centro that evening. He wasn’t a bad physician, he had just forgotten how to be a human being. In that moment I felt a desperate sense of isolation. Later, I realized that the worst part about being sick for me was not feeling pain or discomfort, but experiencing isolation and fear.
That’s how I got the idea to bring improv into medicine: It came from my intense desire to increase the sense of connection between people in health care.
I’ve seen improv comedy in medicine do incredible things. I’ve seen it open up a room of physicians, patients and their care givers so that they can actually talk to each other in a meaningful way. I’ve seen cancer patients in real trouble somehow laugh at their situation and then share resources they didn’t know they had. I’ve watched as med students realize that they can relax a bit with patients; that they can (dare I say it?) be a human being with the people they serve.
Many times the laughter itself is enough to help us. Heck, who can argue with something that has been proven to increase serotonin and dopamine levels? Often though, it’s the good stuff that comes afterwards that has the real payoff. After people laugh, the natural release of oxytocin that occurs helps people bond together in an almost tribal way. They are more prone to trust each other and be generous to each other. What does this mean in medicine? It means that by using improv comedy to sneak by the sometimes brittle facade of our intellects, we find a way to our silliness, our vulnerability and our humanity. It creates a safer space for us to collaborate in a meaningful way.
To simply say that “laughter is the best medicine” is a platitude that floats by too quickly. These simple things called laughter and improv comedy can be the doorway to feeling better. There is profound good here that we can use to great effect and we have just scratched the surface.
That was a real person in my improv class, by the way — a terrified second-year medical student. I stayed silent and the group didn’t even breathe. There was no way out for him but to say something, anything. The question swirled in his brain: “What is the name of a car that should be invented?” He looked at me. I saw the light of an idea flash in his terrified eyes. “The Fartinater!” he cried.
The class roared with laughter. I applauded and declared him the winner. His face lit up like a 10-year old who has just had the best birthday ever. He was connected, with himself and those around him. Any sense of arrogance was demolished in the joy of experiencing a huge laugh from his peers. I saw a crack in the protective facade he presented to the world and I hoped that would translate to his work with patients in the future. ■